Here are the facts as we know them: Blut Aus Nord is the one-man black metal project of a Frenchman who calls himself Vindsval. Vindsval debuted his whole thing in 1994, but he has allowed the public to learn basically nothing about him in the years since, which is fine, since guys who make black metal often turn out to be either (1) sociopaths or (2) boring nerds. (There are even some boring nerd sociopaths.) I hadn’t heard of him before this year, when he released the first two volumes of his 777 album trilogy, which is getting some good press for pushing black metal into unexpected places. Even so, I didn’t give it a chance until yesterday, when my friend and Stereogum predecessor Brandon Stosuy called both parts of 777, collectively, his favorite metal album of the year in his Pitchfork column. Brandon’s right. I couldn’t much get into Sect(s), the first 777 volume, because it sounded, to my ears anyway, like so much of the black metal I’ve tried and failed to like in the past six years or so. But The Desanctification, the new one, will probably turn out to be my favorite black metal album of the past few years, mostly because it jettisons the stuff I don’t like about the genre while keeping the stuff I like intact.
First: A word about black metal. A few people I know, people whose opinions I usually understand and always respect, live and breathe the stuff. It’s immersive, worldview-informing music, and I just don’t get it most of the time. Even at its worst, the genre does misanthropic atmosphere beautifully. But the rabid-badger vocals and constant double-bass drum-salvos drain the music of the drama and grandeur it should have. With that constant drum-judder, the music ends up essentially rhythmless a lot of the time. And even a beloved genre classic like, say, Emperor’s In The Nightside Eclipse flattens out into endless nothingness when I try to get into it. The only black metal albums I find myself genuinely enjoying are the ones that make a point of going way, way outside genre orthodoxy — like the last Nachtmystium joint, which had the temerity to inject synth-disco into its attack.
Beyond a few flourishes, like Wax Trax-sounding drum-machine sputters or gothy synth-swells, The Desanctification doesn’t explicitly grab at musical ideas from outside black metal. The album nails that swirling, mystical I-hate-everyone atmosphere just about perfectly, and Vindsval’s buried-grunt lyrics basically dissolve into “hargle bargle urgle burgle graaaaaah!” whenever I try to figure them out. (I really hope he’s not a Nazi.) But the album works because it keeps a central rhythmic pulse throughout. It’s not a dance-music thing by any stretch, and the actual drum sounds all have that sickening wed-thud quality so prevalent in the genre. But they’re slow enough that they actually punch hard and give the riffs room to breathe, and the few bursts of double-bass assault work because there are enough slow passages to give their intensity some weight.
I don’t know what the album is about, exactly, and I don’t think I’m supposed to. The album works something like Godflesh’s Streetcleaner – a forbidding slab of unadorned hate, compellingly rendered. It’s the sort of thing that can send you into a staring-into-nothingness zone-out for periods of time long enough to make your loved ones uncomfortable. I recommend keeping it on your headphones when you’re wading through holiday-shopping crowds; it’s the sort of generalized animosity that can keep you afloat in situations like that.
777: The Desanctification is out today on Debemur Morti.