I was thinking that I’m beginning to have a special appreciation of the way the Dutch think about black metal. I wasn’t sure what it is about that particular variety, but something captures a familiar bleakness. So I sat down and thought about it. Some time ago I reviewed the album The Comforting Grip of Misery by Norfolk based band AND NOW THE OWLS ARE SMILING. Norfolk is part of an area called The Fens. It is a flat, mostly unexciting landscape but… it gets mythologised a little because in many ways it’s like being out at sea. You can see for miles but there’s nothing but grass and woods, and roads that seemingly wind and stretch into oblivion.
The Netherlands, I imagine, are a lot prettier. But there’s this link. The landscape is so similar that districts in South Lincolnshire which borders Norfolk are named after Holland. But unlike the English mythologising The Fens, the Dutch seem to translate this feeling of darkness better. It’s a shared cultural experience that resonates differently depending on who’s expressing it.
Which brings me to the subject of this article. GREY AURA kindly offer us Zwart Vierkant (English: Black Square). A release based on a novel written by multi-instrumentalist Ruben Wijlacker about a painter who becomes fixated with an art movement that originated in Russia: Suprematism. Suprematism is somewhat featured in the album art, which is disarming with its use of large, bold and bright blocks of colour. The style here is almost more fitting for a jazz album.
We begin on Maria Segovia. A burst of noise, an explosive entrance before mellowing and consistency takes form. If I did not know that this band were Dutch, the melodic elements here would point me more towards Eastern Europe and possibly even Arabic speaking countries. The vocals seem to switch between typical black metal fare and post rock narration. It’s a cool effect and a very impressive way to start the album.
The album continues on toying with expectations of what black metal should be but never straying too far until midway through track five. It is here that it takes a hard left turn into Charles Mingus-esque deviations and deconstructions. Parijs is een Portaal (English: Paris is a portal) is a stunning achievement in terms of vocalisation and lyricism. Even only written they ooze a seductive, sultry and vibrant image of the past but coupled with how they are delivered. They work their way inside until for the briefest of moments you believe that you are sat in a Parisian nightclub in the 1950’s.
“De waas houdt het leven binnen
(English:The haze keeps the life in)
En deze geheven glazen
(English:And these raised glasses)
Drukken tegen zachte lippen
(English:Press against soft lips)”
Overall this is an incredibly interesting release although I suspect that it might be a little divisive. If you already like jazz, or post metal, or SHINING then this is worth a try, but I’d advise you sit down with the lyrics in English if you don’t speak Dutch because otherwise you’re going to be more than a little lost.
Words: Jacob McCrone
Zwart Vierkant will be released on 7th May 2021 via Onism Productions.
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