In my (perhaps not-so-humble) opinion, Blut Aus Nord mastermind Vindsval is one of the most under-heralded geniuses within the black metal scene. For over two decades, he has quietly gone about his business under the BaN moniker to craft some of the most engaging, atmospheric, striking and above all creative black metal within the genre. Whilst many black metal enthusiasts are still in thrall to ever-more cartoonish posturings from Scandinavian has-beens well past their sell-by date, across eleven full-length albums, the name Blut Aus Nord has undeniably become a synonym for relentless, unquestionable quality.

It has been a (relatively) lengthy three years since the last full-length – 2014’s ‘Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry’ in which, accompanied for the first time by a human drummer, Vindsval continued to explore the more soaring, arboreal side to Blut Aus Nord as exemplified by the Memoria Vetusta series of releases. The results were resounding – a bewitching fusillade of glittering riffs and surging dynamics, Saturnian Poetry was one of this listener’s albums of the year. In customary fashion however, Vindsval has decided to switch play and return to a sound which he is more renowned for – a claustrophobic, haunting, quasi-industrial soundscape first encountered on the seminal ‘The Work that Transforms God’ album from 2002 and honed to near-perfection across the ‘777’ trilogy of albums at the turn of the decade.

A bold move for sure, however Vindsval has never been afraid to showcase his versatility, having demonstrated an aptitude for the dark, cold, surreal and eerie as well as the elegiac and the exhilarating. ‘Deus Salutis Maea’ is without a doubt a further exploration into the darker corners of the Blut Aus Nord sound – freezing mechanized percussion fused with guitars that chug, warp and weave forming the bedrock of the album. It’s a familiar sound, certainly, though familiar only by virtue of the fact that it is a sound honed by Blut Aus Nord themselves. ‘Classic’ Blut Aus Nord some might say! Conceptually, Vindsval seems to be plunging us into the most esoteric and pitch-black corners of religious philosophy though as with most Blut Aus Nord, the true meaning is shrouded in cryptic symbolism.

With that in mind – and as the record unfolds – one can’t help but feel a certain sense of disappointment creep in. This is undeniably strong stuff – the sickening, lurching hook of Chorea Macchabeorum is spellbinding, the ghostly choral vocals on ‘Absime’ affecting, the swarming guitars on ‘Impius’ disturbing – but it can’t be denied we have heard all of this before. And after the powerful physicality of the percussive backbone of the previous record, the programmed drums – whilst appropriate for this expression – feel a mite thin, a touch weightless. The guitars again, whilst deploying that suitably groaning, distinctive fretless sound, seem to lack a bit of sonic substance.

This notion extends even to the length of the album – it’s just over 33 minutes long (deliberate perhaps, but still…) and even this is padded out with a few minutes of abyssal soundscapes and ‘tension-building’ quietness. Whether an artistic decision or not, it still leaves one with a feeling of a slightly incomplete experience and certainly not of the level one would expect after three years of gestation.

I am being unduly harsh perhaps but this is always the lot of the artist who engenders a truly committed following – the highest standards have been set and to fall short of those, even by a small amount, will cause consternation. ‘Deus Salutis Maea’ is still undoubtedly an impressive piece of work – the atmosphere is present, the percussive thrust of the grinding, mid-paced riffs is at once both satisfying and disturbing, whispering synths paint patterns of spectral morbidity whilst the trademark burbling howl of the vocals swarms across the soundscape like exhaling revenants. It just doesn’t quite reach the heights we know this act is capable of.

(7.5/10 Frank Allain)