BLACKDEATH – Also Sprach das Chaos (2021)REVIEW

A combination of inaccessible or limited run vinyl-only releases and a tradition of severe Russophobia within heavy metal spheres did a fine job of keeping St. Petersburg, Russia-based apocalyptic black metal band Blackdeath affixed in place as a deep underground experience for their first fifteen years of existence. During this extended period of ethnocentric development the core duo presented a markedly raw and traditional black metal sound derived from the earliest second wave ethos, standing as an unreasonable and unflinching monolith. The band we hear today on this tenth full-length album, ‘Also Sprach das Chaos‘, conjures their most idiosyncratic form yet — The result of cracks from within the stone finally insisting upon the sharding of their steadfast block of obsidian into imposing, gnarled statues. The sheer flexibility of their signature forms is tested to the point of madness herein and this is only possible because of the unshakable foundation fostered by the artists. Two outsized epics of progressive weight bear a leathered quality in expel of crazed, off-center emanations available only to they who would fearlessly mutilate and re-carve their own flesh for the craft. There’ll be nothing else like it this year and perhaps even more surprising, nothing else like it in the band’s own historia.

The aforementioned shattering of the obelisk arguably arrived with Blackdeath‘s fifth album ‘Vortex‘ (2008) the first to feature a semi-melodic malaxation as well as a guest appearance from musician/fine artist Maya on drums whom would appear on Ulvdalir‘s debut album that same year. The core line-up since 1995 had been brothers Abysslooker and Para Bellum and it seems this new drummer brought the right working relationship or, a vital point of impetus that’d further expand their sound with each new release. This is the main argument for not digging through the entire past history of Blackdeath, they’d had a watershed moment beyond several years of tradition and ‘Also Sprach das Chaos’ provides a paradigm of its own beyond that point as well. For my own taste the best album from their early years is inarguably the restored ‘Bottomless Armageddon‘ (1997), and ‘Gift‘ (2015) otherwise offers some context of the distance between decades of development as well as the consistent voice of the project holding fast regardless. In hindsight of 2019 it’d be fair to suggest ‘Phantasmhassgorie‘ as an apex for what the band had been developing since ~2007 or so, no longer hinting at increased experimentation but going for it. This must’ve been facilitated by a general boost from T.T. (Abigor) whom provides similar assistance (mixing, mastering, etc.) on ‘Also Sprach das Chaos’. The gates were opened, the keys dissolved, and now the flood persists on album number ten.

‘Also Sprach das Chaos’ consists of two acts depicting first the collapse of the cosmos and then the rites of forced release from samsara that’d created said chaos. These events are presented as effect before cause rather than cause and effect which read to me as an acknowledgement of their cyclic value or the intent for the listener to immerse and lose track of which came first or second. Beyond this, of course the subject matter and depiction of events within “Paralysiertes Äquinoktium” should naturally place it first to catch the ear of the excitable heavy metal listener. This fourteen and a half minute piece begins with the full band barking right in, Para Bellum‘s vocals railing up the throat to the base of the nose and holding fast alongside the main riff as it patiently hums out a tense, disturbed folk melody that soon begins to spiral out of control. The go-to comparison for this sound on this and the previous album is thus far early Master’s Hammer but to my ear the suggestion is more along the lines of the less precision-based side of German black metal in the mid-90’s when it was about embracing “weird” for the sake of differentiation rather than weird for the sake of weird, or I suppose a hint of ‘Written in Waters’ would make even more sense as we reach about ~6:10 minutes into the piece. An orchestra-sized event begins to develop as the tempo rises, martial drums expand the weight of the auditorium’s resonance and the sleeker, sentimental riffs that begin to punctuate points of chaos become the central motif of the song itself. We are witnessing the thrashing of the cosmos into an unbound state as the song peaks into its ninth minute, hitting upon a disjointed Voivodian eclipse into celestial dust and then… Well, then the chanting starts. A fitting end to the album which initially presents itself as the central event, these layers of chanting persist for just about four minutes before we take a step back into the past. This moment holds up surprisingly well on successive listens and provides a complete ego-death for what is presented prior, yet I cannot escape the feeling that it goes on for at least a minute and a half too long.

The focal point of the album is inarguably “Im Labyrinth” a nearly twenty minute song which acts as the precursor to the events that open ‘Also Sprach das Chaos’. Blackdeath have done a fine job of making these two songs seem tightly related though it is clear that this patiently strolling and howling place we’ve stumbled upon is where the narrative begins. Again it is worth highlighting how in sync bassist/vocalist Para Bellum and guitarist Abysslooker are even when approaching from a more artsy avant-black metal angle, their resolve does not falter even within these events which seem out of character to start. As we step into the second progression around ~7:31 minutes in the narrative goes from a planning stage towards the stirring of action wherein a corpse enacts his anti-cosmic rite of unravel. The basslines here are directive, ominous and almost playful in the art-rock sense if not restrained by the tribal cinema of the drumming. Of course we are building up to something big but I’d argue that this ranting swell that starts the piece is the “meat” of the experience and the tension it creates is its most beautiful point preceding the release near the ~13:39 minute mark. There is a healthy dose of ‘Srontgorrth (Die Macht erfasste das Meine wie die Angst das Blut der Anderen)’-era Nagelfar in mind as I appreciate Blackdeath‘s incorporation of electronic/industrial elements. This is far more fitting in mood for the theme presented, at least for my own taste, and ends up being the most memorable part of the full listen. At this point we could see the motifs of “Paralysiertes Äquinoktium” reprised here to define the full listen as the second song ends or, if considering the loop of the album on repeat, foreshadowing for the larger statement of what comes next (or, came before). If we are meant to witness the breaking of the karmic wheel and gain some deeper cosmosophy from the central anti-cosmic spell of the dead at the heart of ‘Also sprach das Chaos’ then the motion of this larger narrative is well implied.

Abrasive, abrupt, challenging and unholy raw at just the right moments of collision ‘Also sprach das Chaos’ diminishes as an imposing listen once the major arc of the full listen is revealed. I’d found myself thrilled to crack into the experience to start and soon wishing there were more details to glean and cling onto. If it were a live installation to be witnessed in full glory I’d certainly show up for it repeatedly but as a black metal album I’ve had trouble breaking away from the easily repeatable classicist forms of past Blackdeath albums, finding this record an artistic accomplishment which feels like a curio without some distance spread between listens. It is certainly the sort of challenge I am always up for when flicking through the more abominant sections of my shelves but ‘Also sprach das Chaos’ doesn’t come with a supremely high recommendation for the sake of acknowledging the appropriate niche and interest level needed to attain the desired effect. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:BLACKDEATH
TITLE:Also sprach das Chaos
TYPE:LP
LABEL(S):End All Life Productions
RELEASE DATE:October 8th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp | Store
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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