“Of thy morning feats art thou proud, / but the future thou knowest not wholly; / Doleful thine home-coming is: / thy mother, me thinks, is dead.” Hárbarðsljóð
Odal is the eldest and most active project from Thuringian black metal artist Taaken whose earliest work is generally associated with the formative years of the Christhunt Productions roster (Nachtfalke, Magog, Ulfsdalir, et al.) via what I believe was his first publically presented project Aske and a short lived co-conspired band with his brother called Raven’s Empire. When striking out on his own circa 1999, alongside an original drummer simply known as Loki, Taaken’s vision for Odal appeared possessed beyond the five or six other projects he’d launch within the following half decade, focusing on bitter and impassioned lyrics alongside melancholic guitar work on their first demo (‘Germansk‘, 2000) that would only intensify on the following EP (‘Traitor’, 2001) before we’d find the pagan/heathen black metal theme fully take hold on the ‘Fimbul Winter’ (2002) EP. Today this work almost suggests that nothing has changed in the realm of glorious strings of somber melody, lain gently and rasped bitterly but this was perhaps a reaction to the important guitar work posited by acts like Moonblood and Satanic Warmaster, there are earlier acts with similar notions in hand but these artists are set in time alongside Odal‘s early days with similar results. The ‘On Old Paths‘ compilation from 2007 presents these works as formative works and I would likewise include Odal‘s debut ‘Sturmes Brut‘ (2002) into that quite bare-lain and stark early body of work for the sake of the increasing sophistication of Taaken‘s guitar and production work beyond 2002.
From my point of view the realization of ambition beyond the scalding, raw passion of the band’s impetus came with ‘…Wilde Kraft‘ (2005) and not because it was my personal introduction to the band but, because you could see all lessons learned applied in good form, strengths developed and skills afire with that passion held fast and voiced in stunning guitar work far beyond the naked wanderings of the early days. The opening moments of that album still leap from the disc as they play with a triumphant yet pensive melodic voice which carries on its narrative through several fairly involved ~5-7 minute pagan black metal pieces. The best comparison to that sound, past and present, is yet Ulfsdalir though their work leans more atmospheric. From that point on, Odal have not changed drastically beyond much longer gaps between releases and the addition of Taaken‘s spouse A.D.D. to the line-up circa 2009, which coincided with a bit more of the folk and traditional instrumental elements on their celebrated fourth album ‘Geistes Unruh‘ (2016). This fifth full-length album, and first from the band without longtime drummer Grroll, is arguably their most considered and triumphal work to date, at least when standing down wind of its striding aggression — In hindsight and with some arm-folding thought set upon ‘Welten Mutter’ there is the sense that the soul of the project hasn’t budged, that it’d instead sat as an eternally sprawling oak since ‘…Wilde Kraft’ caught its earthen spiritual rhythm and rooted in place. An odd takeaway considering the energetic, folken heavy metal spirit the album flings about from start to finish but, only posited on my part for the sake of insisting that Odal yet retains the standard of their highest point, spreading fuller within reach rather than endlessly failing in grasp of the sun.
Rather than delve into the minor differences in fidelity, technique, and melodic voicing spread throughout each of Odal‘s prior three full-length releases I’d like to focus on what instrumentation appears most refined and freshened here on ‘Welten Mutter’ namely the pronounced lead guitar focus, shying away from simpler hooks and instead framing each pagan/melodic black metal piece with a phrasing that modifies as the rhythm guitars shape the way forward. This creates a sensation of reeling under the tow of the record, hurling back as the force of it demands stronger footing as the drumming on the album begins with a more heavy metal pulse and soon delves into plenty of double-bass rolling statements. As the tempo map expands so does the expressive quality of the lead instrumentation, wherein stoic leads sufficed on Side A, on Side B the violin work from A.D.D. alongside several additional layers of guitar contribute to the last couple pieces on the record. Even as the final piece “Erden Zeit” ends there is no peak to fall from, only a depth churned to float upwards from. Of course all of these frequent references to heavy metal are essentially my way of landing the tone of this record somewhere in the realm of early Windir or, ‘At the Heart of Winter’ even, as ‘Welten Mutter’ kicks off with “…um Ewiges zu schaffen”, a circular and ever-gathering cyclone of black/folk tarantella that thankfully stops short of a punkish melodeath traipse and instead battens down around the ~2:50 minute mark, making room for the concurrent (and initially somewhat bewildering) dual guitar movements; One slung low and to the left channel, the other high and to the right providing additional phrasing atop for the otherwise balanced rhythm tones. By splitting the ear in this way Odal have inferred a complex, conflicted narrative beyond the triumphant bombast of the opening salvo. A brief hit of traditional/’epic’ heavy metal storytelling with some sophisticated technique interspersed is entirely fitting for this particular lineage of pagan black metal though it is a lot to wail upon the unsuspecting listener to start.
Much of Side A sets aside this chaotic sense of movement for the sake of evenly flowing pagan black metal pieces, entirely in service to each distinct melodic voice that song is built in support of. “Schattental” is perhaps the most notable use of the violin as a sort of directive statement, upon which each statement either responds or builds the next. This is a fairly modern sensation if we consider the progressive spectrum of atmospheric black metal is the only other space we’re likely to hear such interplay and I believe that only serves to emphasize the care given to songcraft via sound structure we can witness on any one piece that ‘Welten Mutter’ features. Although I am not entirely sure how the lyrics build upon this notion of Jörð or, the world’s mother in whatever specific contextual representation of nature intended but the dark water steeped and war-torn figure on the cover illustration from artist DDD pairs well with the balance of triumph and tragedian excess Odal‘s narrative voice presents. “Der Kälte Atem” is the harrowing step into the core of this feeling, a tragically blissful melodic black metal cyclone wherein sweeping guitar work demands itself the centerpiece of the full listen, gilding this already special rhythmic statement with enough subtle accoutrement to render the whole piece ridiculously repeatable. This is not the final peak of the full experience but it is the one moment that I found unforgettable, more or less echoing my response to the discovery of ‘…Wilde Kraft’ many years ago.
The momentum of the album shifts from that point, wherein Odal are still observing a distinct melodic shape as the basis for each of the final three pieces while extending each phrase into longer threads, typically peaking in the latter third of each 7+ minute piece. I’d say the title track verges on a melodic black/death riff around the ~4 minute mark, having what I’d end up calling a Running Wild moment briefly in leading into the final section of the song. “Welten Geflecht” leads with a similarly spirited introduction, though I’d say this moment does meaningfully foreshadow the greater statement of the song. Although I like these pieces they do build an argument against my earlier statement that Odal are maintaining a status quo, never reaching beyond their already successful and defined selves. In some ways these later songs do feel like a step outside of the norm and into a mode that is accessible if not somewhat divergent from the strident mood of ‘Welten Mutter’ towards something joyous and sentimental. Of course you’ll have your own interpretation so, I wouldn’t take too serious stock in my rambling beyond the suggestion of a shift in mood within Side B‘s extravagant movements. “Erden Zeit” is just too effective a closing statement to overlook with any too-sweeping statements about the second half of the album and for my taste it is as much of a highlight as the obviate beauty presented by “Der Kälte Atem”.
When fully immersed and clinging to every moment of ‘Welten Mutter’, leaving the album on repeat for two or three hours at a time, the subdued and vexing first impression of the record soon eases away. It might actually benefit the album to crank it just a bit too loud to start, to appropriately hit the ear with its thunder and force the mind to adapt to its melancholic density. Once it’d cracked into me a bit and I’d begin to count its many glorious details and impressive moments to return to on successive listens, the greater value of Odal‘s fifth album became more clear. That is to say it is a “grower” aimed at a patient and perhaps somewhat already familiar listener who’d at least heard the previous album, ‘Geistes Unruh’, and expected a further refined and even more serious experience. It is an album that one has to remind themselves just how good it is rather than a gripping event that begs to be listened to, exactly right for black metal but not as extroverted as one might expect pagan black metal to be with its spiritual, folkish direction. An undeniably strong experience that may take some convincing yet holds some special value. A moderately high recommendation.
|RELEASE DATE:||April 23rd, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
Pagan Black Metal
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