“Boredom ruins my life” screams the message in the album’s notes. With their disparate styles, Netra seem to be aiming at dispelling the boredom while reflecting it at the same time with their depictions of “fading nature and urban depression”. The title of their previous release in 2010, “Mélancolie Urbaine”, is a good starting point for this album.
The picture on the sleeve of “Sørbyen” is of an guy sitting on a hill in front of a snowy town. He is having a quiet cigarette. The album begins in a jazzy tone before working into black metal. It is always bleak but with feeling. Electronic sounds add a sense of day-to-day pointless routine. The next track is dreamy in a murky way but vivid “like a teardrop in an ashtray”, to quote one of the lyrics. Atmosphere is all. It is like a Murakami book – real but not real. Although languid, it moves along in a surprisingly warm way. There’s real soul.
Musically, the retro classic rock style and dispassionate vocals of “Crawling” reminded me of Love de Vice from Poland. Netra are from Brittany, itself a place of rugged and bleak landscapes, but this could be about anywhere. Peculiar keyboard strains start the title track. It’s hard to tell if the dark and dreamy progression is a nightmare unfolding or the reflection of everyday greyness. At times on this album I felt the gothic ambiance of Tiamat, the strangeness of Lou Reed and the menace of Burzum. Here the drum adds fast colour and the guitar plays an exotic solo, but it is never overstated. The vocals are deliberately flat and the lyrics are cold: “She’s dead, there’s nothing I can do about it any more”. “A Kill for a Hug” conjured up images of corpses in poorly lit, crumbling apartments. An emerging pattern is that the output picks up a little, and then there’s an expansively melancholic electronic section. It is magnificent. It’s like floating in the air but in a very disturbed way. Orchestral sounds emerge. The atmosphere is inescapably sad. At this point “A Kill for a Hug” completely took me over. It pleased me from the viewpoint of musical continuity that “Streetlamp Obsession”, the fifth track of the first part “Différends”, had similar quietness. Sad and distorted guitar strains accompany the spoken word. “Depressing” is too jolly a word to cover it. A metal instrument enters. The music is classy and sophisticated but not designed to lift the mood. A jazz bass guitar seeps through an acoustic line. The style changes like the course of the day but there’s a hypnotic rhythm and it always remains cold and as if we are in half light.
A conversation takes place. The trance-like mood and ever developing electronic soundscape have the air of “house” music. This is trip hop. The guitar plays serenely. It’s beautiful. There is a semblance of warmth in what is the musical representation of the night. I am blown away by the ambiance of “Emlazh”. This is stunning. In the fuzziness which follows, there’s tranquillity in what seems like an electronic snowstorm in the background. “Différends” is at an end, and we’re now ready for the second part “When the Time is Right”. It begins with “Wish She Could Vanish”, a moody rock song. “Death has been busy”, I hear. There’s a strong Tiamat-like air of gothic gloom. The guitar sends out a disturbing rhythm. A man is whispering in my ear now. The guitar line is languid again, yet there’s movement and presence. Screams can be heard as the gothic pattern intensifies to end it. Then another electro-industrial beat and smooth guitar line opens “My Ill-Posed Life”. Heavy and edgy and this time reminiscent of a Burzum atmosphere, it’s just a brief burst because we enter “It’s Kicking In”. Its patient electro-beat is the sinister backing to another steady and whispered track. You can feel the shadows in it. The beat is like a heartbeat. It’s minimalist by now. Whistling can be heard in this sombre and atmospheric scene. I also heard in the background a kind of eastern-influenced guitar line. As the track picks up, it becomes ballsy and classic metal emerges. The guitar solo is sublime but the beating heart does not stop.
The melancholy mood continues with “Concrete Ocean, another metal piece. The fire in the guitar and the bleak ambiance again recall Burzum. The drum plods on inexorably. The most horrifying screams so far emerge. They sound distant. The background goings-on and layering are a strength of this album. There’s something of early Tiamat about the deadened gothic atmosphere. The vocals even have a tinge of Bowie. Progress is gloomy. A metal guitar is used to build up atmosphere but for the first time on this album it left me indifferent. “Strange Bliss at Dusk” is more like it, entering the world of experimentation with sounds and bells and representing a sad progression. The drums recreate that “house” feel. The track’s title seems ironic, for this seems to be music for the dead of night. Electronic distortions add confusion to the sinister patience. The album ends with “I Shall Slay the Monkeys”. This time there is electro-industrial gothic confusion. “I hate you” is uttered between an assortment of scary sounds. A roar is heard, the storm rises, the drummer beats furiously and chaos threatens. A metal riff breaks out but we’re never far away from the familiar moody electro-pattern. The dark clouds are laced with jazz. This reflective track dies away softly and distortedly. “I Shall Slay the Monkeys” is an unconventional track to end an unconventional album.
In some ways “Sørbyen” is more of a series of artistic experiments than just an album. Musically, it transcends genres. It is about mood. Many of those moods are shadowy and overwhelming. This is a very interesting work.
(8.5 /10 Andrew Doherty)