Review Summary: What musical adventurousness truly sounds like.
In his treatise The Art of War
, Sun Tzu (allegedly) wrote the following nugget about the limitations of music:
”There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.”
While there are obviously more than five notes (clearly he didn’t know his scales!), I understand the general conceit of the quote. Regardless of how avant-garde and strange your project is, there are always going to be certain ground rules that limit just how original the output can be. However, contrary to what the average 70s classic rock boomer might think, there are still several
ideas and concepts that have yet to be fully explored to this day. Even in the tiniest microgenres and musical niches, there’s still room to innovate and challenge musical norms – though the window to do so is getting smaller each and every day.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that American black metal solo project Kostnateni has achieved exactly what I alluded to above: with D.L.’s second record under this name, Úpal
, he has created sounds that I have legitimately have never heard
before. Through his efforts in expanding the frontiers of microtones and dissonance – with the help of fretless guitars and wind instruments, of course – D.L. has crafted a 38-minute monument to warped creativity and broken conventions. Úpal
pays more attention to odd textures and tonal nuances than outright brutality, something that immediately becomes apparent on the stellar opener “The Belt”; the uncanny, almost psychedelic note-bending gives the song a hazy vibe, almost as if you’re witnessing a mirage in the desert. And despite the frequent shifts in rhythm and tempo, the droning guitars make for a hypnotic listen – as do the chants in the middle of the track.
But delve a bit deeper, and the experience becomes even more strange; however dissonant “The Belt” was, the following song “I Burn Forever” cranks that shit up to 11. The discordant blasts of guitar noise, the absolutely unhinged
drumming, the jarring shifts between melody and aggression… this is some off-putting stuff, and makes for a truly compelling piece of music. And despite the fact that there are blastbeats, double bass, and intense riffs, the more “metallic” elements of Úpal
never come off as being the central focus of the record. Take “Opal” for instance: there are certainly heavy riffs and guitar distortion, but you’ll likely be too busy focusing on the Turkish chants and flute melodies to even take full notice of those things. Then there’s “Hide From God” whose slow doomy crawl provides a base for all manner of textural experimentation and guitar-driven oddities; odd pinch harmonics and intriguing harmonies abound, resulting in a late-album highlight.
Keep in mind, by the way, that this was all done by one person
. While solo black metal projects aren’t exactly a rarity, I’m truly impressed at the attention to detail on this project; despite all the wackiness and off-the-wall energy I’ve outlined thus far, there’s clearly a sense of care and deliberation to be found on Úpal
. For every oddball musical choice, there’s a lovely melodic passage to bring a calm to the storm – just listen to the middle section of “Nausea Is All I Am” for a good example of that. For every dissonant guitar stab that incites confusion, there’s a powerful, strident passage that makes sense of everything you just heard – just listen to the melodic-yet-intense riffs at the end of “I Burn Forever”. And what kind of conclusion does Úpal
send us off with? None other than a 7+ minute behemoth by the name of “Sun Bound to the Bleeding Earth”, a mammoth track that encompasses all of the best attributes of the album. The oppressive atmosphere, the contrast between melody and savagery, the crazy rhythmic shifts… that’s how you close out a record of this kind.
Still, what exactly do I mean by “of this kind”? I mean, sure, I could compare this to other disso-death/disso-black acts like Ulcerate, Gorguts, Deathspell Omega, etc. But Úpal
really occupies its own lane as well, one that the African and Turkish folk influences serve to enhance wonderfully. The true beauty of this record is that it experiments with some of the most left-field sounds that have ever been brought to the black metal sphere, while never going… too
far. The album still manages to be incredibly concise and even somewhat accessible, while taking the listener for a diverse, eclectic ride they’ll never forget. This is what musical adventurousness truly sounds like.