Review Summary: Opensourced black spiritmetal from the people who brought you Have a Nice Life's Deathconsciousness and In Pieces' Lions Write History.
Originally Posted by Introduction to "Chorus of the Blasphemes"
Now I've got a clean copy of it now and I warn you, that this could scare you. Here's the email: Dear Art Bell, I just recently began listening to your radio show and could not believe it when you talked about the sounds from hell tonight. My uncle had told me this story a couple of years ago and I didn't believe him. Like one of your listeners who just discounted the story as nothing more than just a religious newspaper fabricated account. The story about the digging of the hole and hearing of the sounds from hell is very real. It did occur in Siberia. My uncle collected videos and audiotapes and so forth on the paranormal, supernatural. He passed away fairly recently, but he would have loved your show. He let me listen to one of his audiotapes that he had on the sounds from hell in Siberia and I copied it. He received his copy from a friend who worked at the BBC. It took me a while to find it tonight but attached is that sound from my uncle's tapes. It's not the greatest quality but the sounds are there. I was very hesitant to send you this, as the sound bothers me to listen to. I suggest that if you do play it on the program that you warn listeners in advance so that they may have the option of turning the radio off for thirty seconds while it plays.
It has always haunted me. For those who discounted the Siberia Sounds from Hell story, it is true. And I for one wish it wasn't.
So opens Nahvalr's debut self-titled LP on Enemies List Records. It's an auspicious start for any highly depressive, lo-fi, and fuzzy black metal album, but seems particularly so for Nahvalr
. Nahvalr is a self-proclaimed "opensourced black spiritmetal" project spearheaded by Tim Macuga and Dan Barrett of Have a Nice Life
. The idea behind this project is that Tim and Dan will receive any and all audio submissions from a contributor and warp the recordings they receive into ridiculously elite black metal. The 65-minute album is a collection of source material from ten different contributors. The opening monologue, taken from Art Bell's supernatural talk show "Coast to Coast AM," is particularly fitting for this album. "Coast to Coast AM" was a hodgepodge of Art Bell's charismatic and open-minded master of ceremonies role, expertise from pseudoscientists and cryptozoologists, and last but not least, speculative call-ins from truckers driving all night through the empty roads of America's breadbasket. The show itself was an oddity, though highly entertaining in its fascinating and strange way. It seemed to thrive, not off of shock value like a horror movie might, but by the creeping, pervasive knowledge that some of the supernatural phenomenon discussed on the show may be real. Such is the power of Nahvalr. It's not in your face and aggressive with guitar riffs, but is more atmospheric and washed out, winning one over with its ambient creepiness and long-lasting power than its ability to isolate one instrumental passage or melody and hit home with it. The fact that this project is the collaborative effort of many producers and contributing is inclusive just feels right. The fact that anybody can tap into this dark well of fuzz and ambience makes Nahvalr's sound all the more crushing and powerful. You too can harmonize the Siberian Sounds from Hell and any other soul-crushing sound clip you come across. Like truckers driving alone on the highway, you can voice your own fears, thoughts, and speculations through a particularly depressive form of black metal.
Beyond the creepy effectiveness of the premise and atmosphere of Nahvalr
, there's something to be said for the deft production here. Tim and Dan are compiling a wide range of compositional inputs into one fairly cohesive output. This album doesn't sound like it came from ten different sources but is very controlled and almost homogeneous considering the hour plus run-time. The production is both impressive and frustrating. Listening with headphones reveals a world of detail. Chiming bells, synthesized vocals, reverby screaming, constant drums, and compressed guitar can all be picked out of the mix through a careful listen, though none of them are obvious without putting a lot of attention into the album. Without that attention and a good pair of headphones or speakers, Nahvalr
feels washed out and distant. The music becomes all surface with no depth and the songs feel like nothing more than organized white noise. There's a thin line between genius and trash in the production and I can't say that Nahvalr
cleanly makes a case for either side. Maybe it's an inaccessible form of genius or a beguiling form of trash, but at the end of the day my response to the production is lukewarm. There are times when I'm on board for the waves upon waves of fuzzed out guitar and screaming, and there are other times where it feels like a wall covering up the actual songwriting.
The songwriting is also a mixed bag. Most of the tracks leisurely exceed the 8-minute mark. Unlike the continual sense of escalation that comes from post-rock song structures, where parts and motifs build off of themselves until the track crescendos, Nahvalr makes little attempt to play with crescendos and decrescendos. A track like "Chorus of the Blasphemes," omitting the spoken introduction, is really just six minutes of relentless snare hits and screaming. Like I mentioned earlier, a track like this doesn't derive its power from shock value (i.e. big guitar riffs or lead vocals), but has a lingering ambience and drone that drives and propulses the track. The track's aftertaste and echo are as important as the track's initial iteration.This peculiar dynamic makes most of Nahvalr
incredibly difficult to listen to. It's hard to pick apart individual moments of excellence or even see the arc of the song being listened to, but the pounding drumming and eerie melodies will stay with you after you're done listening, compelling you to return and figure out the system and background behind the noisy foreground. However, the album isn't entirely a flat, droning walk through depressive black metal soundscapes. "Let Them Eat Blood" is shaped more like a post-rock track, with the semitone dissonances of the opening vocals being built over the course of the song's eight minutes, until the drum set and the guitar lines blend together into ambient fuzz, and the track fades out. Other tracks like "Swallower of Bile" and "There Isn't Anything" make slight gestures at such a structure, but are more concerned with their atmosphere and droning repetition than building cathartic crescendos out of the black metal fog.
All of this critical pussyfooting around Nahvalr
's merits as an album have avoided the crucial question: is this album good? In my critic's cowardice, I have to answer that with further equivocating. The songwriting and production aren't always intelligible in an immediately rewarding way. The album alludes to its own depth but buries itself in so many layers of distortion that its difficult to pull out a tangible song structure, melody, anything really, at any given moment. However, I found myself coming back to Nahvalr
, searching for that depth, striving to find those little production details that define the album's soundscapes. Nahvalr
is an album that has me hooked despite my inability to point out any one section I like. Like Rick, the listener on "Coast to Coast AM" who contributed the Siberian Sound from Hell tape, my feeling with Nahvalr is that I'm being haunted. For that lasting sensation alone, Nahvalr
succeeds, even though their production and songwriting may be too dense and oblique for every day listening. Nahvalr
is a ghost, always elusive and diaphanous, but always entrancing and interesting.