Arty Finnish metallers Oranssi Pazuzu hit big with 2016’s Värähtelijä, a culmination of their experiments in wedding atmospheric black metal with the retro psychedelics more common to doomsters like Electric Wizard. Epic song lengths belied the compulsive unpredictability of the music, which was prog in the best sense, eschewing mind-numbing solos for constant transitions that dramatically shook up compositions just as they seemed to settle into a groove. Mestarin kynsi, the group’s follow-up, doubles down on this approach. If the band’s extreme metal roots were sublimated into more gorgeous forms on the previous album, it’s an even smaller aspect here. Juho “Jun-His” Vanhanen still rasps his vocals demonically, but the band has sonically lurched deep into a web of Krautrock-like space jams, bullish hard rock and metallic emphasis.

Opener “Ilmestys” hints at just how far the band have pushed their sound, rolling out with a clanging acoustic riff over faint groans of noise and the light pulse of Jarkko “Korjak” Salo’s drums. Jun-His gurgles over this light but unnerving composition, to which is added a percolating synth line that starts to buzz as if the entire song were about to rupture. Eventually, it does, erupting into an industrial dirge of sheets of fuzz guitar blasting over intersecting synthesizers. Loud and overwhelming, this certainly isn’t black metal, but does retain the subgenre’s frosty, apocalyptic energy.

The nature of the first track, not so much moving between distinct segments as gradually adding more and more to the mix until the original elements have been warped into something unrecognizable, defines the album. On “Uusi teknokratia,” the group piles on folk influences, infusing the track with a lilting flute that contrasts with the grinding industrial beat. After three minutes, the guitars enter with a burst of white noise that navigates a middle ground between black metal speed and string-bending psych-rock, only to just as quickly drop out into some kind of nervy blend of Tangerine Dream soundtrack, faux-primitive chants and mallet percussion before roaring back for a reprise of the earlier track that is somehow even louder than it was previously. “Tyhjyyden sakramentti,” meanwhile, is all atmospheric snatches of guitar amid various spacey synths until Jun-His’s rasps lead the track into a blackgaze segment of tremolo-picked bliss that recalls Deafheaven, only for the band to punch through and revert to something closer to traditional black metal with digital howls of wind to add to the brittle, freezing tone. Then, things shake up once more to slow and stretch that playing into something warbling and shimmering. It’s the same basic composition, but completely flipped on its head.

With only six tracks spread across 50 minutes, you know you’re in for long, labyrinthine songs; indeed, not a single track here clocks under seven minutes. Yet these undulating tracks never grow wearisome or sedentary, instead constantly taking left turns that keep the listener guessing. Take “Kuulen ääniä maan alta,” which starts off with a four-on-the-floor click that grounds the sort of electronica that Warp churned out by the truckful in the ‘90s, at once arrhythmic and oddly swinging. An LFO-like burst of skull-pounding dance music follows before the guitars parallel the beat with their own coruscating hisses. That all of this ends with a tranquil extended outro that maintains the track’s energy is another testament to the command the band has over their protean sound.

Admittedly, by this stage Oranssi Pazuzu might have become the sort of “black metal” group that has ties to the genre in only the most tangential ways, bound by little more than gargling vocals and the occasional tremolo-picked wall of sound. Even the loosest and most progressive notion of what black metal can be will find little recognizable in, say, “Oikeamielisten sali,” which places a cascading string section in a pit of negative space that gradually fills with droning synths before a pummeling groove-metal riff tramples over everything. But fealty to a genre is irrelevant. All that matters is whether a band obeys its own logic, and everything on Mestarin kynsi, no matter how surprising, builds on the elements that the band place into each track. Everything is in service to the overall atmosphere, which remains shrouded in smoke and multicolor compared to black metal frostbitten monochrome. The album reaffirms Oranssi Pazuzu as luminaries in the fertile modern metal scene, a band who could play with just about anyone as their sound embodies so many disparate modes.

  • Best Albums of 2020 (So Far)

    We have reached the halfway point of 2020. In the past, we would use this time to pause, l…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

The Stooges: Live at Goose Lake: August 8th, 1970

Fleetingly captures the mythology that has enshrined the band for decades. …