Norwegian Black Metal bands really pride themselves in making sparse, cold, ambient Black Metal that is just as much rough and raw as it is grim and primal. However, there is a landscape out there that is far sparser, vast and chillingly desolate: Russia. Certainly Russia is not one of the countries where Metal is often spoken about but it isn’t such a huge stretch to assume that there are at least a few bands from there that have a good grasp on pure Black Metal. Well, one of those bands happens to be NORD’N’COMMANDER. Yes, the name is ludicrous (and if you look at the song titles, it gets worse) but it is a small inconvenience in what is an auspiciously intriguing, if flawed, album.
First let’s set the record straight for the purists: this is Black Metal in the same way that MAYHEM is Black Metal. Indeed there is a lot of folk influence in there, as the sub-genre heading will tell you, but don’t think FINNTROLL. Rather, think further back to CELTIC FROST and you will get a better idea of where N’N’C get their influences. There are no solos, clean vocals or progressive elements to muck up the works on “Hermeneutics”; just blast beats, machine gun riffing and stretched-out screaming. However, keep in mind that this isn’t MAYHEM and you will have to deal with some CARPATHIAN FOREST-like keyboard effects and some Russian flute melodies.
The album’s overall progression is quite astutely planned if a touch experimental. The album is somewhat conceptual in nature and carries a theme of retrospection and self-understanding that is veiled by analogies of paganism, war and totalitarianism. Through breakneck Black Metal tracks like “The Omen I’m In...” and “Journey To The Pole Of Archetypes” the listener is pummelled by the duo’s musical assault while periodically being interrupted by stock march and crowd chants, battle noises and eerie keyboard music that is reminiscent of the pop music played in Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. After seeing the appearance of a BURZUM cover at the album’s tail, one would think that the two bands share similar political ideals, but in fact the Russians simply use the sounds and music for effect and to further their overly artistic lyrical base. All this is of course nearly impossible to understand over the admittedly bad vocal screeching and sucking-in-growling that is commonplace throughout. Also the band seemingly wants to destroy my spellchecker by having a song title with the word ‘Pessimistical’ which coupled with the fact that half the songs are in Russian leaves an intriguing concept that will unfortunately never reach the psyche of the listener.
The album truly hits its stride with the track “Mistress Of The Ferry”, which contains a dominant folk melody that is played for a couple minutes before being blasted by pure Black Metal fury for the remainder in a truly triumphant climax to the album. The two songs that succeed it are less stellar as “Drifitng Into Pessimistical Sleep” is a rather dreary song about death while “Schlaff In Allem...” is only silence. While the latter makes sense thematically, it is pretty irritating to have a minute and a half of dead air on a 50+ minute album.
The last three tracks are all covers of three different styles of metal. The BURZUM cover is very capable but seeing as how the original was a rather atrocious piece to begin with, I’m sure anyone else covering it would vastly improve it. The DEATH cover is spirited but seeing as how it is done without guitars it can be extremely annoying to hear simulations of riffs and solos for a full song. The MANOWAR song is done much in the same way; however, it simply does not hold up to the original and feels quite a bit more flawed than the previous two.
“Hermeneutics” as a whole is very rough. The whole album is available for download on the band’s website so it is worth checking out if one is fan of Black Metal in any of its forms. The vocals are the band’s Achilles heel and they get less desirable as the album progresses. The experimentations are not always hits either, such as the interlude “Ein Vorzeichen Des Kommenden”, and the basement-level production ruins what could otherwise be outstanding tracks. Moreover, the nearly incomprehensible story (which requires one to do some serious internet research) does the album no favours. Still, there is enough to appreciate and should appeal to fans of old-school Black Metal as well as Darkwave and Folk Metal. I just wish somebody would tell me what the hell NORD’N’COMMANDER is supposed to mean!
For Fans of: CARPATHIAN FOREST, CELTIC FROST, SATYRICON
(Online July 5, 2009)