Review: Blut Aus Nord, “777 Sect(s)”

This is the sound of all of your musical expectations being ripped up and thrown away.

After the ethereal, often-lovely 1999 masterwork “Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars,” French black metallers Blut Aus Nord  scratch scars into your psyche with “777 Sect(s),” the first of a year-long, three-part project ( parts II and III are due in September and November, respectively).

BAN is definable by, well, being somewhat indefinable. The band can, and often does, play traditional black metal, but the black metal is often intermixed or displaced entirely, with elements industrial and techno music, acoustic interludes and raw, evil noise. The music can be beautiful at times and almost unlistenable later.

But even by previous standards, “777 Sect(s)” shocks.

The songs, named Epitome 1-6, are less individual songs than six movements making up one long work. If there’s a theme here, its disharmony, or, perhaps, dysfunction; minor scales and progressions twist and fall like broken scaffolding in an abandoned industrial nightmare (if there’s a single major key played throughout the album, I certainly didn’t hear it); “Epitome 1” is almost too discordant, with angry melodies treble-picked while band founder Vindsval groans over/under the music. At the 1:50 mark, the song changes into a dead elephant march before flying back into the twisted carnival and ending on a techno beat. It’s exhausting. The first time I heard “Epitome 1,” I wondered what the hell hit me.

But the album is deceptive; scattered throughout the “Epitomes” are moments of odd beauty, like orchids of melody growing amongst the flaming wreckage all around. “Epitome 2,” is a seemingly simple industrialized funeral march, with moments of grand majesty amongst the blackness. “Epitome 3” is the musical personification of a mechanized slaughterhouse and “Epitome 4” is nail-bitingly anxious, with Vindsval playing his vocals backwards over the driving tank rhythm.

“Epitome 5” is broken and jagged, complete with the clangs of heavy machinery and “Epitome 6” is not much more than a single riff, repeated over an industrial beat.

 This isn’t easy listening. The music is strenuous and people introduced to BAN through the more traditional black metal of “Memoria Vetusta II” are going to be in for a shock. But there’s a hidden beauty here, even if it only flashes through at moments, like the melody within the riff on “Epitome 6,” or in the undercurrent of “Epitome 2” and the off-kilter bizarro world of “Epitome 4.”

It will likely turn off traditional and symphonic black meta fans, but “777 Sect(s)” is certainly black metal, or a least a hybridization of the genre with a definite black metal sensibility. This is cold, mesmerizing music, written for cosmic forces and singularities we cannot fathom. This album burns like deep-space frost bite, but I like it.

It will be interesting to see what musical direction Vindsval and BAN take on the second and third discs of the series. Frankly I’m dying to see how the three “777” discs fit together.