This is one Virus I never mind catching even if it has been more than mere antibiotics that have held it off since 2011 album ‘The Agent That Shapes The Desert.’ Stemming from one of the most creative and revered bands shaking up the Norwegian Black Metal scene and taking it down twisting and turning, avant-garde paths Ved Buens Ende delivered one seminal album ‘Written In Waters’ in 1995 before splitting. Effectively the antidote came in the way of Virus 5 years later which musically struck as a natural evolvement of the sound this seminal act had carved out. All three current members of Virus, Plenum, Einar Sjursø and Czral have served time in VBE at one point and between them have past and present pedigree in a veritable list of acts including Beyond Dawn, Aura Noir, Manimalism, Audiopain, Dodheimsgard, I Left The Planet and more.
One thing I have noted over the years and via enjoying Virus with their three previous albums and very rare opportunities of catching them live is that their sound is uniquely identifiable. This is certainly true of new album ‘Memento Collider’ and it made it a surprisingly easy album to really get beneath the skin and get to grips with. I was kind of worried that they may have done a Dodheimsgard and delivered a perplexing album that was going to take ages to fathom out but no, as soon as first track ‘Afield’ strums in, despite its 10 minute running time, I felt like I was greeting a very old friend. If you have never heard Virus or VBE at all before you may not feel similar as they have an almost alien sound that really goes against the grain of most things you will have encountered before. The guitars on the opener make very strange sounds and shrill cadences which along with pronounced and heavy bass work can really mess with your head. When you put these together with Czral’s poetically crazed and random sounding lyrical sprawl you kind of feel like you have wandered into a Shakespeare recital on acid. Although understandably recanted they are so odd that without the benefit of lyrics in front of you there is no way of quite getting to grips with them. A strange otherworldly acoustic interlude has things going down a very trippy path before that incessant guitar clamour comes back in along with a bass groove that I can’t help hearing and being reminded of something like ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ by Spandau Ballet; yes rest assured it’s all very weird but in the grand scheme of things also makes perfect sense. Perhaps the uninitiated may have help from Costin Chioreanu’s visual interpretation of second number ‘Rogue Fossil’ (although probably not). The skewed riffing and random feel of everything is as much a musical collage as it is a visual one and makes for a very odd meeting of very odd minds. Although mentioning the uniqueness perhaps that should be kept to metal circles more than any other as playing this in company a string of names came out from XTC to Talking Heads, Pere Ubu, Stump, The Fall, Bogshed and Half Man Half Biscuit! Apart from making this more than obvious to the fact that John Peel would have loved this as I seem to remember he did VBE, it also gives an indication of how genre crossing Virus are and hints at some of their other influences.
The discordant but strangely gelling riffs mesh in a heady frantic feel on ‘Dripping Into Orbit’ making you feel like your brain is dripping out your skull as Czral adds more literary sounding randomness that would now possibly even make Edward Lear sit up and make notes to the overall tableaux. The jazz laden technicality is precise and the jagged feel of the music is completely in free fall. What anything is actually about is beyond me as ‘Steamer’ floats off on a voyage like some stranded ship being buoyed down an Amazonian path enriched with the sort of bewilderment as if captained by Kinski in a Herzog movie. Apparently there are some guests on the album including Voivod guitarist Dan Mongrain who provides a solo, without more information it is impossible to fathom just where his contribution lands up. ‘Gravity Seeker’ is more upbeat and grooves and chugs away “twisting through the mind” like a fever dream or a very hallucinatory sickness with the viral load taking full grip. Over a 45 minute running time Virus do so much and take you off on such an odd journey that you should feel completely disorientated; somehow though I don’t and as the cantering and shimmering chords and oblique time changes ‘Phantom Oil Slick’ spreads out in a black morass I know I’m going to get drawn back to this again and again. Apparently live dates and festivals are in the offing and I really hope that I get the chance to see Virus again in the flesh (although not supporting a self-indulgent Ulver this time). They have certainly provided one of the weirdest soundtracks to 2016 that you are likely to encounter; my only hope is that this review goes part the way to explain what you can expect.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)