Review Summary: “Walk the black path of fire / To the everlasting sunless fields”
Europe is arguably the safe haven of innovation when it comes to metal - Apart from more or less inventing the genre from its embryonic origins in the works of Cream and The Kinks right down to birthing the genre's very own fathers in Black Sabbath, the scene also boasts some of the most varied and forward thinking musical minds in the genre in nearly all of its sub-generas, from the onslaught of doom metal following on the footsteps of Sabbath to the famed NWBHM that helped birth the more extreme sides of metal to Finland's peerless death metal scene. With so much quality practically dripping from just one relatively small zone, it's the unfortunate case that some of that quality, perhaps for being too different (or not different enough) won't get the chance of being remembered the same way others would, destined forever to smaller cult-circles.
This brings us to Blod-Draum - Reading into it, the most attention-calling aspect of the album is the fact that it comes from Norway, a place that's, to say the least, not known for its death metal. Moreover, it's from 1994, a year in which Norway's well-known black metal scene was thriving, with Burzum's 'Hvis Lyset Tar Oss' and Mayhem's 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas' released that very same year alone. With all stars seemingly alligned precisely against the album, it's easy to see how Blod-Draum could've slipped under the rug, being released in the same year as some of the influential albums for what might be Norway's biggest claim to musical fame, from a genre that at the time found most of its stride in the American side of the world, and then from a band that more or less came as fast as they went. Recent remasters and reissues have been made in order to soften the blow and redirect some eyes that might have otherwised missed it, though it remains to be seen how much impact it'll truly have. Until then, here is Blod-Draum, one of the most singular and ravaging experiences I've yet to hear in any metal album, and one that's well worthy of being from such a top-class country when it comes to metal (And basically everything else, but now I'm digressing).
Seasoned listeners will hear what's so special about it more or less instantly - For starters, the production job is some of the muddiest this side of cavern-core, combined with a characteristically-for-Norway cold sound that makes every instrument feel like it's in a constant battle against the others. The guitars buzz hard enough to cut right through your eardrums, the vocals are only just barely audible, everything seems to echo against the other in a cacophonic mess - Fans of Incantation, particularly 'Mortal Throne...', will likely feel right at home with such an equal parts atmospheric and aggressive assault, except even that sounds comparitively clear compared to this. And just like Incantation's sophomore, it works in its favor, thanks to the fact that the music itself is among the most cacophonic I've ever listened to in the genre, thus making the album sound almost like a hazy, near-impenetrable storm. Yet despite how violent and blunt the music is, it is also accompanied by a folk influence that's often as blunt as merely stiching them in the middle of one the songs, or fusing them with their sound into one as it's the case with the instrumental title track. These folk influences/interludes are, to the say least, odd; For tracks like 'Following the Growls', the drone-like break in the middle can be seen as a rest from the riff haze, yet its loudness, dark sound makes it feel much more tense than perhaps they should be. But even more interestingly, some of these influences can also be vaguely heard in some of the lead riffs for several of the songs, often sounding like riffs made for classic folk tunes more than a death metal track - Look no further than the aforementioned title track for an example of this. But there's examples that are less blatant - Take the leads in 'Carved By Raven Claws', for example, with their anthemic and somewhat swashbuckling feel that doesn't feel too far off from something that The Pogues might've done during their most drunkard of states.
Interestingly, some of the most memorable moments of the album don't come from the music, but actually the lyrics - The lyrics appear to detail an abstract journey through bizarre, blood-rushing lands, one seemingly governed by light and the other with naught but darkness reigning. What this journeyman appears to seek isn't entirely clear, but this journey appears allegoric towards what the narrator sees in his dreams, dreams that seemed all too real as he appears to search for forsaken souls in search of "An ancient way of life", lost souls who've lost their way as well as their own children. The tale concludes open endedly, with only the narrator musing 'Their children they will find'. I mentioned that some of the most interesting moments come more from the lyrics than the music, but I suppose that's not entirely correct - Rather, it's the relationship between the music and the lyrics which mark these moments, even if they might not be entirely understandable seeing as it's nigh-impossible to understand anything related to the lyrics without reading them, but once they are understood they become impossible to ignore - Take the aforementioned folksy-break in 'Following The Growls', which is framed by lyrics detailing the narrator's quest through a 'Blood-rushing river' as he finds an ancient battlefield filled to the brim with naught but blood and misery, the sounds of agony and violence still rushing through the ears of anyone daring to approach it this land of no one. This break paints the now stilled, grim battlefield with the appropriate scope and equally appropriate intensity that must go through anyone looking at such a dark scenery. Though not as clear-cut as this moment, things like this can be found all through out the album, perhaps with a less dynamic sense but no less interesting to ponder as we can only hope that these lost souls can find their way again, much like the narrator assures they will at the album's end.
Though it's a somewhat redundant statement seeing as this is death metal, Blod-Draum is certainly not for anyone - The incredibly bizarre tunes and abrasive, blizzard-like atmosphere is likely to instantly repel anyone who doesn't already have a liking for the kind of aggression extreme metal tends to have, and even seasoned death metal listeners might have an issue with it, with buzzing guitars that feel dangerously close to black metal. But for anyone with an open mind, I can't recommend this album enough - Above all else, Blod-Draum is a unique experience within the realm of metal, often just as devastating as it is fascinating, a true achievement in a genre filled with self-taught musicians with only the aim of venting their frustrations keeping their attention.