The flexing and re-defining of black metal is one of the great joys of post-millennial extreme music. Long viewed as the most orthodox and ugly of metal strains, black metal — especially from countries outside its Norwegian birthplace — now encompasses the legitimately beautiful pastoralia of Agalloch and Alcest, the hermetic atmospherics of Xasthur and Velvet Cacoon, the psychedelic experimentation of Nachtmystium and recent Enslaved. Though it remains shackled to the violence and Satanism of its bloody beginnings in popular mythology, the black metal of today is as diverse, philosophically and musically, as any other genre.
Few bands reflect the changing face of black metal quite as well as France’s Blut Aus Nord. It’s probably overstating things to say that Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue With the Stars will appeal to fans of the Cure or the Walkmen, both bands that share Blut Aus Nord’s penchant for guitars that paint darkened swaths with gobs of reverb. But where the unrepentant dissonance of Blut Aus Nord’s last couple albums were designed to suck inward, Dialogue With the Stars shoots out clear, ringing streams of tonal tremolo picking and cosmic keyboard beds. It’s got the expansiveness of post-rock without sacrificing an ounce of black metal’s thrumming electricity.
The liquidy tone of Vindsval’s guitar smothers the ever-changing chords of “Acceptance (Aske)” in space goop, rocketed skyward by exceptionally well-programmed drums. Blut Aus Nord spin out flying guitar leads that melt into trickling arpeggios and then slow down for chugging Arabian processionals. There is little of black metal’s usual relentlessness on Dialogue With the Stars. “Translucent Body Of Air (Sutta Anapanasati)” expands and contracts between fragile beauty and rich, storming metal chords over ten minutes, evoking the Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and breathing alluded to in the title. Both the digitized blastbeats and Vindsval’s rasps are low in the mix, adding to the feeling that the songs on Dialogue With the Stars blow by like howling winds.
While the forcefulness of traditional black metal remains, Dialogue With the Stars glitters attractively as it rips across the sky instead of scalding ears with lo-fi acid. Within Blut Aus Nord’s canon, the album is a colorful step forward from the industrial greys and browns of MoRT and Odinist. For black metal itself, the album throws open another escape hatch to a whole world of possibilities.