If there’s anything the last few years in music has proved to me that would have been thought utterly ridiculous beforehand, it’s just how well 70’s-style psychedelic jam rock meshes with atmospheric black metal. Two genres that had existed for decades beforehand, with distant and opposite fanbases and musical ideals, and one that had been scarcely relevant in the mainstream for decades, merged together absolutely seamlessly, with equal elements of both, to create a sound match so shockingly fitting that it’s ridiculous no one had tried it before. It started with Hail Spirit Noir in 2012, continued with the latest records from Morbus Chron and A Forest of Stars, and now Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu, who dabbled in the style with 2013’s Valonielu, have emerged with the most competent, complete, and enthralling album of atmospheric blackened jam psych rock metal to date, with Värähtelijä.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t a jam album in the fun, Phish-worshipping sense of the word. This is far from a fun record, in fact its atmosphere is probably closest to the words “tortured” and “expansive” than anything to do with the good times and drug obsession that gave 60’s and 70’s psychedelia its name. But the loose, hypnotic, groove-oriented drumming and effects-laden guitar solos that weave on for minutes are here in numbers. For an album with an undeniable connection to some of the blackest of metal’s reaches, this is surprisingly un-metal. In fact, the only things that would stop this from appealing to a baby boomer with an aversion to noisy music are the vocals, which are true blackened harsh shrieks of anguish. The rest of the music here is dark in atmosphere, but groovy and rich in playing and expression. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a black metal record with a bass guitar this loud and this groovy, and most of the guitars, drums, organs and synths could be found on any 70’s psych record. It’s almost to the point in which I feel hesitant calling this ‘black metal’ – that term is divisive enough to turn hundreds of would-be fans off this album.
Every time I put on this record I get some heavy flashbacks to Kairon; IRSE!’s 2014 masterpiece Ujubasajuba from the first minute of opener “Saturaatio”. On that album Kairon took a jam rock spin on 21st Century shoegaze, taking My Bloody Valentine to the extremes of progressive and psychedelic expansion, with tight drumming and infectious bass grooves driving the songs, and the effects-drenched guitar wailing all over the top. This strikes me as a black metal version of that record, with Darkspace-style space black metal being filtered through the same lens, the one that converts every instrumental into a dope headbanging jam, and every guitar solo into a meaty, fiery explosion of reverb and echo. “Saturaatio” is an absolute wall of huge driving bass and soaring guitar wanderings, and by the time the vocals actually come in, you’re tapping your foot so much that you barely even notice them. “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous” pulls back out the rich bass and uptempo grooves again in sweet fashion, this time with far more prominent and ferocious harsh vocals reminding me a lot of A Forest of Stars or even the latest Behemoth album. I would call it the most metal track here, if it weren’t for the 5/4 groove straight off a prog rock album and the ridiculous chirpy synthesisers straight from… god knows where (but it sure ain’t metal).
Some could complain that the album drags on for a while, and while I do feel that at times, this is a combination of two genres known for dragging on for way too long, and I don’t think the band would succeed in creating the fantastic atmosphere if the songs weren’t that long. I concede that a couple of songs aren’t as captivating as they probably should be, and obviously by the time you’ve heard half the album you know what the rest will sound like, but that doesn’t stop it from being wholly enjoyable. There are long sections in all of the 10 minute plus songs that are ultimately just repetitive drones or plodding grooves, but they all add to the mood and atmosphere. My only real complaint with this album is sometimes I feel the band are writing music too much to a formula in certain segments. The longer ones, at their best moments, are definitely the strongest on the album, with 17-minute monolith “Vasemman Käden Hierarkia” containing some epic and captivating female choir vocals that add brilliantly to its atmosphere.
The two microgenres, “space rock”, referring to groups like Hawkwind or Gong, and “space black metal”, referring to groups like Darkspace or Vattnet Viskar, both get their connections with space from entirely different sources. Hawkwind are like the psychedelic sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. They’re abstract and colourful and adventurous, undeniably drug-obsessed and a bit off-their-rocker, but they represent the exploratory side of space, the excitement of the new frontier, as well as the obsession that anyone who has had LSD has with. Darkspace, however, are like the scene in 2001 when Frank gets flung out into deep space. They’re cold and dark and almost impossibly frightening. They represent the terror and loneliness of space, the impenetrable darkness, and the knowing that death is around you constantly. When you think of it this way, it does make complete sense that the two styles would merge perfectly, and this new combination of two different eras, ideologies and manifestos can merge on, well, a mutual obsession with Stanley Kubrick. This is a record that spends a lot of its time being filled with intense instrumental jams and rocking riffs, but throughout its length, mostly done by the harsh, cold guitar tones or the anguished and strained vocals, they create an atmosphere of impending dread and constant fear, which is without a doubt the most impressive part of this album.