Now best prepared to attempt their first great work beyond key pivot from death music’s self-destructive minutiae unto the cinematic climes of modern ‘epic’ atmospheric black metal, Copenhagen-based trio Orm fashion Dansk symbolist prose into a feature-length oratorium on life and death on their third full-length album. ‘Intet • Altet‘ appears outsized, overly ambitious and perhaps even a bit self-involved upon first encounter yet its depth of personal meaning begins to impress once the ear breaches a centimeter beneath the surface, musing on career trajectory as much as the human condition within fully fleshed and widescreen scenery. For the modern atmospheric metal fandom it should be a worthy wellspring of existential consideration, though I don’t know if it’ll scratch the frantic black metal elite’s itch for riffing malevolence.
Formed in 2015 after roughly ten years spent chipping away at a somewhat indecisive form of modern death metal as By the Patient, these folks would pivot their efforts towards a modern style of progressive and increasingly long-winded black metal as Orm. Over the course of three full-length albums the Danish trio have shifted their aim from ‘epic’ feeling, roiling compositions towards extended length works which feature a notably prolonged sort of atmospheric black metal grace stretching between strands of melodic black metal rushes, keeping pockets of aggressive riffing distant and impactful. In this sense we get the general modus of Orm‘s rhythmic ideation early on with their vastly underrated debut (‘Orm‘, 2017) with some latent death tics and shorter pieces, succinct and packed with ideas which ranged from brilliant to dryly average. The language and the spiritus was there but it wasn’t until ‘Ir‘ (2019) that the modus and narrative motivations of the band would fully arrive. That second record was something a bit gloriously underground, perhaps less noticed than it should have been for its obvious musical value and the tact put into their craft as they two guitarists introduced some freshened rhythm techniques within compositions that’d land nearby ~25 minutes each. From my point of view the band knew they were onto something unique, memorable and perhaps challenging to the average short attention span so I greatly admire that they’ve made an album that is twice as big, twice as meaningful in their craft of ‘Intet • Altet‘ rather than reduce the core idea to less than it is today.
Útgarða-Loki’s challenge. — That is to say that ‘Intet • Altet‘ is a whopping ~94 minutes in length, a true double album split between four songs with each representing its own side. This approach might not have been influenced by a love for mid-70’s progressive rock extravagance but the act itself is exactly that ambitious and perhaps ostentatious from a certain point of view. I was a fan enough of the previous album that the idea of a doubly large record was welcomed yet the prospect of analyzing it was… a bit of a mountain. It makes sense to start with motivation, meaning and work towards how well their grand ideas are invoked per the listening experience.
Orm‘s greater Weltanschauung reveals most clearly as they patiently consider the human life cycle in a cognitive-spiritual sense, one which lands nearby Scandinavian idyll and the Jungian stages of life with the caveat that the mid-life “crisis” leads the protagonist into hermetic solitude and the proverbial sunset begins from that point. The value here is less in the outline in retrospect and more within the symbolist poetry they insert into each ~20-24 minute piece. The most profound moments of the greater arc in four stages manage draft a realistic shape for modern man’s mid-to-late in life retraction of the self unto personal spiritual progress, aiming towards enlightenment beyond those who cling desperately to principles and convictions at mid-life and refuse further suggestions. The voyage to the great beyond (“nothingness” or titular intet) is the culmination of the sojourn in this story, rather than focus on the rot, dementia and disease which comes at the end of life these Danish fellowes choose to emphasize solitude, a point where one is all with the continuum and not merely a dot along the way.
The mystique of the daunting double album in rare form dies quickly without justification, at least in practicum. The success of such a long, involved double LP ultimately hinges upon its ability to convey such an ambitious theme and sonically justify its length with stylized performance enough that it might hit within one sitting and encourage more than a shelving after a spin or two. By providing four great big chunks of song, each landing around mLP length, Orm have at the very least given reasonable stopping point between each scene depicted. “Fra dyden” tasks us with considering the absorbent nature of the youthful mind, a virtuous sunrise. This opening piece reads a hair more along the lines of the current best among Belgium’s earthen atmospheric black metal spheres as we find the guitarists taking their time developing progressions which thankfully steer away from dry crescendo-core and most (not all) of the usual romanticist atmoblack tropes of the last ten years. They’ve all the time in the world to appreciate the opening glow of this piece, it’d seem, and I’d found it was necessary to ease down to their pace if I’d any hope of immersion to start, the halfway point brings a bit of a rock kick to it at the very least. On repeat listens this’d been my least favorite piece on the record overall, and I’m sure that says more about me than the piece itself.
“Floden, som kan skabe” speaks to the full-grown adult entrenched in responsibility to family and community, navigating the tides of creation’s output while being sated by the act itself. This is not yet the point of frustration in life most eventually find but a sense of dutiful contribution to humanity, however unnatural it might seem. The album’s rhythmic motif develops most heartily here, clearly considering the cinematic intimacy of larger atmospheric black metal acts in their own voice but retaining their own voice as much as possible. The fade into the ~5:29 minute point and its generous stopping point manages to be the first of many sentimental checkpoints along the way which demands the listener is essentially along for the ride and a bit of patience goes a long way where as the piece builds towards ~15:15 minutes in and breaks into the strongest and most memorable 3-4 minutes on the album. I figure most folks are either up for it if they’d lasted that long getting there, or you’d at least woken up a bit when the big event hit for a moment or two. “Floden, som kan lede” trails on towards solitary adventuring, implying a withdrawal from society (per the artist’s own explanation) by way of an entirely instrumental piece and this is more or less where the idea of the album outranks the actual action of it since this nearly twenty minute piece is a bit of a snore at the point where the arc should be most active and involved. It’d end up feeling like a too-long intro for the final piece as I’d go on listening to ‘Intet • Altet‘ a number of times. In glorious waltz towards death the final chapter, “Mod døden”, reminds us that this is still the Orm we’ve known all along as they present what is essentially an album’s worth of ideas packed into one song, a song which echoes the well-stretched dynamic of ‘Intet • Altet‘ just as well. This is where I’d gotten the most ‘progressive’ black metal ideal from the full listen and this makes for a grand finale which seems to go on forever, in a good way.
As I considered the representative value of each song per their descriptions, lyrics and the sway of their movements I’d found the most quiet and considered clean guitar driven moments on the album lacking in profundity enough to drive home the various dualities insinuated, little of which makes liberal use of the accoutrement and guest contributions that might’ve made those moments even more grand. The narrative ultimately works though I’m not sure the length of the album is justified overall, at least not beyond the first five or so listens wherein the holistic effect of their work is most captive and freshly ornate in mind. It lands as more of an ongoing mission statement on developing a great metaphysical opus rather than a great work itself just yet but hey, the skeleton and the intimately revealed personae is yet entirely there in place.
As a product and a package of course ‘Intet • Altet‘ shines in presentation, this not being their first LP cycle, with a high standard for visuals (see: View From the Coffin) arriving with bespoke meaning well embedded into their curation of each item. Though the music and its value within a sitting (or two) is most important it does go a long way to see such care given to an album’s physical manifestation when we consider the majority of folks simply won’t spare the necessary amount of attention span required, yet these folks make sure their craft is considered and embedded outside of time. The blustering parts surely impressed, the sentimental quietude at times merely filled the gaps for my taste, yet I’d come out of this one even more a fan of the impressive vision Orm persists with. They’ve done fine work here which deserves some manner of high recommendation, an item especially for the patient and well-indoctrinated ‘epic’ atmospheric black metal fan.
|TITLE:||Intet • Altet|
|RELEASE DATE:||September 30th, 2022|
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