Dold Vorde Ens Navn – Mørkere Review

Do you ever get the feeling that the idea of discrete musical genres is more useful to fans and critics than to musicians themselves? The reason I’m asking is that Dold Vorde Ens Navn is a Norwegian black metal band with whom I keep trying to have a conversation about whether they’re a “Norwegian black metal” band.

The key players and events of second wave black metal in Norway have been so rehearsed and internalized as part of an internet-raised music nerd’s baseline that “Norwegian black metal” is now more of a heuristic for a constellation of musical and nonmusical signifiers than it is a real reflection of the music’s tentacled and mongrel outgrowths. After all, if Norwegian black metal certainly was Mayhem, Emperor, Darkthrone, Immortal, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, and Satyricon, it was just as much Ved Buens Ende, Ulver, Fleurety, Arcturus, Thorns, Solefald, Dødheimsgard, and In the Woods. After all, the amount of time those formative bands spent playing the music we casually think of as “Norwegian black metal” has likely long since been dwarfed by the more heterodox music of their contemporaries and successors.

Friends, I know this is willfully obtuse, but perhaps like me, you have spent a little too much time threshing the wheat of sounds into the slurried chaff of words. Maybe the real point here is that mythology can be a hell of a crutch, whether the weight you’re trying to put on it is that of thinking about the contours of a music’s development or that of just making the damn music. I would rather give up my compulsion to organize and classify, which is why it’s such a true and rare joy when an album grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me silly until all the goddamn words run out.

In case the punchline is unclear, Dold Vorde Ens Navn’s debut album Mørkere is exactly that kind of album: a brilliantly realized, wide-ranging album clearly steeped in the lineage and divergent traditions of Norwegian black metal without ever feeling tethered to them. This position within and freedom from is all the more meaningful given that two of the primary musical voices in Dold Vorde Ens Navn are Vicotnik (of Dødheimsgard and Ved Buens Ende) and Haavard (most notable as the guitarist on Ulver’s seminal four-album run of Bergtatt through Themes from William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell).

Mørkere is so self-assured in its mix of styles, so powerful, polished, and professional, that it almost has to have come from seasoned musicians comfortable in their own skins. Each song is a self-contained universe of riff and mood, with Vicotnik’s vocals forming an essential narrative thread throughout. His vocals are a wild, gripping array of different sounds – and truly, of entirely different voices, from snarl to bellow to croon to whisper to chant. Haavard’s riffs sometimes call to mind his time in Ulver, as with the main riff of “Løgnenes abstinenser,” which has the same sort of bright, triumphant feeling as the major-key opening to Ulver’s “Hymne VI” from Nattens Madrigal. The acoustic guitar and chanted vocals at the start of “Det falt et lys i min mørke krok,” meanwhile, are reminiscent of Ulver’s Kveldssanger, but when the song opens up into heaviness, it’s with a sort of restrained folk metal wooziness that feels more like Isengard or LIK.

One of the greatest things about Mørkere is that it has a loose, slightly off-kilter feeling, like a suit that looks great but sits a little oddly on the shoulders, or like meeting a stranger whose shadow doesn’t quite match their shape. That strangeness, though, is entirely immanent to the songs rather than imposed from outside; apart from the string section that accompanies on a handful of the songs, there is no extraneous instrumentation or effects. The taut, chewy riffing behind the chorus of opener “Jeg vil ha det morkere” feels like a spiritual twin of Kvist’s brilliant album For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike, but elsewhere Dold Vorde Ens Navn sound like they have summoned an occult measuring system in order to split the unlimnable difference between
Dødheimsgard’s Kronet til Konge and Supervillain Outcast.

Sometimes these songs settle into a relatively simple, tense groove, like on the melodic but tightly wound “Arvesynden,” and other times they ricochet off in unexpected directions. Throughout the album, Myrvoll’s drums are a model of tight, perfectly classicist restraint, the proficiency of which will surprise no one who saw his incredible performance during DHG’s U.S. tour a few years ago. The primary guitar motif of “Determinismens paradoks” is a neoclassical melody which almost seems to have been abandoned prematurely, but the very end of the song brings it home ferociously, with some fantastic unison chanting from Vicotnik at his most Csihar-esque. The string section does the heaviest lifting on “Er det måneskinn,” from a pizzicato chamber intro into a heavier feeling with tremolo guitar and deliberate, martial snare drums that culminates in a soundtrack vibe not unlike Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold.” It is a deft, breathtakingly lovely song that gestures to the past (echoes of Emperor’s “Al Svartr (The Oath)” and some of the very earliest Thorns demo material) while sounding like very little else but Dold Vorde Ens Navn.

I get pretty nervous anytime somebody wants to talk to me about Art, because I would much rather talk about music. It’s not that music isn’t art, of course; in fact, it’s the primary form of art that animates and elevates and restores me. It’s just that something about the self-importance of Art Talk manages to make music seem smaller by saying how much bigger it is. So instead, in the hope of leading you to bigger things, here is a small claim: this is a very fine album, and I hope that you listen to it and find something to carry with you.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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