[Artwork by B. Mollema]
“Time was standing still
The meeting is over
Their journey is on
Oh, they should have known
Not to play…
With the powers of Hell
Some people have lost their way
Some people have lost their minds.”
So what of the interpretations that have diluted black metal’s earliest tenets with more romantic narratives, uptown vibes, playful theatrics, and broad strokes of shoegaze, psychedelics, indie rock and whatever other fresh in-vogue distillations that currently result in podium scores from major music outlets? Well, depending on your level of gatekeeping / assholishness, hypocrisy such as this could award the offenders the hapless scarlet “U” of untrue. An altogether separate option, however, might be to…you know, loosen the screws a bit and not worry so much about how the general public pigeonholes, even if it makes the skin itch from time to time. But then, we are talking about a particularly serious sub-genre that, despite its penchant for sedition, is largely rooted in and keen on orthodoxy, which, conversely, is the precise reason people enjoy challenging the boundaries so much. Over and above all this hither and thither, it’s also valid to keep in mind that a significant portion of bands would really rather not have their work placed into a tidy box, and that includes those adopting black metal elements and ostensibly this particular duo from Bennekom, Gelderland, Netherlands as well.
Fluisteraars uses the following word medley to describe their sound via Bandcamp: “Raw atmospherics molded into blackened psychedelic folk-rock.”
To spice the pot further, the band’s Facebook finds them characterized as nothing more than “music from Gelderland,” while their Instagram account very simply delineates things as “music from Bennekom.” In short, Fluisteraars enjoys fluidity and variation, and they’re apparently not terribly concerned about genre tags.
But, um… Yeah, this absolutely is a black metal record. While I’m sure there are no shortage of purists that balk at the way Fluisteraars has merged a decidedly charming form of beaming post-rock to the design, Gegrepen door de geest der Zielsontluiking (rough translation: Captivated by the spirit of psyche enlightenment) delivers not only the necessary stylistic parallels to classic black metal, it also manages to underscore a very unique and raw energy that’s as wild, nymphic and occult as early May on the Summerisle in the 1970s.
Gegrepen feels so black metal, in fact, it manages to out-black the three full-lengths that preceded it, which is particularly unexpected because Fluisteraars’ trajectory made every indication that the next step following the gossamer beauty of 2020’s Bloem coulda shoulda woulda been something closer to Mogwai than classic Ulver. NOPE. The duo of M. Koops (guitars, drums, bass) and B. Mollema (vocals, lyrics) flipped the script and channeled a similar well of elemental energy that birthed records such as Nattens Madrigal, Diadem of 12 Stars and Thèmes pour la rébellion.
Was this progression through regression intentional? Who the Hell knows. The story nearly writes itself, though. From the promotional package: “[The record involved] only doing one take of every instrument, only recording the natural acoustics of the room instead of the close-up registration of sound so ingrained in modern production. The duo recorded exactly one song each studio day. No overdubs, no synths – they started every day by setting up a new sound palette for each song.”
In a sense, everything about the recording setup for Gegrepen at least acknowledges the potential for some sort of fortuitous stumbling upon an ancient gateway via mesmeric riffing. Relevantly, it’s certainly worth mentioning that one would have to search high and low to find a record more suitably produced than this. Koops and T. Cochrane (E-Sound Studios) are once again responsible for that particular task, with the mastering duties credited to the sorcerous talents of Greg Chandler (Esoteric, Lychgate) at Priory Recording Studios. All is perfectly balanced here without sacrificing moments of serious “pop” for each instrument and voice, and while it would clearly be impossible for Koops to play guitar, drums and bass at the same time live in the studio while Mollema howls alongside, the recording very much sounds as if it was done that way.
The songs themselves pack an overwhelming amount of emotional energy into most every stretch, so designating what you’re hearing to the backdrop is not only ill-advised, it’s a damn-near hopeless endeavor (given the right environment.) That’s a good thing. That’s a great thing. Also, the record is wildly different compared to Bloem—so much so that figuring out how best to approach the first dissective cut is actually quite challenging. This is also a great thing. That said, those shimmering post-rock riffs that have so often been extremely present are still here, but where Bloem used them in a way that managed to make the record feel more contemporary, Gegrepen folds them into the design in a more organic way that maximizes the record’s comprehensive sentiments of escape, sovereignty, and sweeping hubris.
“Het overvleugelen der meute” (≈”Escaping the Crowd”) [8:14] opens the record with a quick and booming drum fill that introduces a prompt jangly sprint. The bass runs in and out of the foreground in an almost playful manner, and Mollema’s vocals offer a satisfying amalgam of eager shouts and a notably rotted rasp. (Rotted in an early 2000’s Nocturno Culto kind of way.) Without the benefit of a lyric sheet, one is left with nothing but the energy and atmosphere of the music to paint the picture, and given the album’s cover artwork aesthetic, the opening song’s title and the way things begin on such a spirited note, the general impression of the theme here is that of a willful abandonment of suburban life in favor of a return to nature and “early ways.” Most every human afforded the opportunity to taste truly wild nature for an extended period of time is aware of that unique and mighty charm—it’s as instinctual to our species as nuzzling a mother’s breast upon birth. The song’s spirited charge is eventually taken over by a stretch of comforting twilight, and then everything drops at the 6-minute mark to give full attention to a very rhythmic, ancestral bit of drumming that’s supplemented by ominous feedback. “Het overvleugelen der meute” stands on its own as a visceral harbinger, but the way it bleeds directly into the second track makes it clear that the record is very much meant to be consumed as a whole.
Song number two (of just three), “Brand woedt in mijn graf” (≈“Fire Rages in My Grave”) [7:07], kicks off with a lengthy wail wrapped in an absolutely stunning riff that’s as golden as a John Martin painting of a luminous sky circa 1800. A minute later, a sudden and heartening BOOM prompts a series of howls that are as much clean croooooons as they are literal wolf howls—it is now evident that the protagonist has left their former self to burn away in a figurative tomb, becoming further committed to a more feral existence that embraces the more brutish face of humanity. (Solemn salute, Dr. Moreau.) The rhythmic energy here is repetitive and pleasantly hypnotic, with the overriding radiance behind the riffing being offset by bass runs that casually rummage in soft, crumbly soil. A notably epic stride is established by the song’s 4-minute mark, which minutes later gets broken up by another long howl initiating the record’s second shift into a more tranquil, ritualistic bridge replete with tense feedback and sacramental chimes.
By now, the overall spirit of the record has shifted even further into progressively esoteric realms, where old gods whisper honeyed promises as oaths become more rigid by order of primeval rites. The perceived peril is not at all Satanic in a Don’t Break the Oath sort of way, but more consistent with the aforementioned Summerisle and Robin Hardy’s 1973 masterwork, The Wicker Man: witches, druidic straw dolls and sacrificial communion at harvest in lieu of devilment and demons in a traditional Christian sense. While there are no brazen folk elements to speak of, the overall tone of the record coupled with the mightily impressive drumming of Koops often carries with it a unique form of rhythmic witchery that’s folk horror suggestive—enough so that a tune such as Paul Giovanni’s “Willow’s Song” as an interval before side B wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
And oh what culmination side B represents. Where the front half of Gegrepen establishes the temptation and initial phases of atavistic escape, “Verscheuring In De Schemering” (≈“A Sundering in the Twilight”) [20:15] portrays the epic and dramatic pinnacle of heathenistic revisionism. The song starts off gravely with the soft chimes of the previous cut joined by a quiet and solemn guitar run. Things go quiet just after the 1:30 mark, making way for a righteous little riff that transitions into a substantial gallop the moment the drums kick in. The mood is arrogant—a naked aggression that’s exaggerated by Mollema’s increasingly inhuman vocals. The relentless charge becomes sedative as it pushes through to the 6:30 mark, and then… Silence. Koops’ guitar re-enters with a wonderfully warm, strummed riff that soon gets picked up by an assertive drum fill that ushers the song into a long stretch of reflective elegance. The drumming is particularly captivating here, sounding as close and comforting as hand offered to a weary shoulder. A sudden stillness returns at the half-way point, bringing with it a swift turn to a notably uneasy measure featuring what is, in fact, a fucking awesome drum solo that once again feels very, very ritualistic and dangerous when paired with ominous feedback and the surprise inclusion of pealing sax. Minutes later, things abruptly launch into the firmament with a hugely jubilant riff & rhythm underscored by a protagonist who’s now in full hermitic form, crazed with the sort of savage growls, wild yips and howls one might expect to experience upon happening across an individual who’s gone so completely feral that moss has begun growing behind the ears and beetles have taken residence in thicket hair. And finally, after one last detonation of pandemonium, peace ultimately seizes command.
Taking everything into account, the peril lurking in the corners of Gegrepen door de geest der Zielsontluiking is something that’s just as tempting as the oath Mercyful Fate first cautioned us about now over three decades ago. It is the unrelenting allurement and bidding inherent to all creatures of this planet: The call of lawless nature herself. And with that summoning and full consent to her primeval ways comes a complete espousal to not only her interminable beauty and abundant endowments, but also the counterbalancing chaos that pits impossibly snuggly bunnies in the fevered jaws of wolves—the very same power that arouses humankind’s devolution into a more primitive, idolatrous state. Clearly, such themes are extremely fitting for the blackest of metal.
Not only does Gegrepen door de geest der Zielsontluiking stand as the highlight of Fluisteraar’s work to date, it is one of the most engaging and gratifying black metal records in recent memory, period. And yes, as an individual who’s fallen in and out of love with black metal all too many times dating back to its inception, I recognize and wholly embrace the weight of such a statement.
Now go get lost… In nature… For a long time… And embrace the thrill of instinctive bedlam…
Some people have found their way
Some people have lost their minds.