Laster, who originate from Utrecht in the Netherlands, are an interesting band. Atmospheric black metal is probably the most mundane description of their music. It is said to have come with elements of avant-garde, post-and jazz rock, art pop and cinematic qualities. “Het Wassen Oog” is now their third album release.
Even my usual informant on the Dutch language couldn’t come up with a plausible translation of the album’s title, so I messaged the band. Here’s the reply: “The title itself is actually a combination of two concepts, the first of them being a “traditional” Dutch saying “Een wassen neus”, which literally means “A wax nose”, it refers to rubbish, something without meaning or value. “Het wassen oog” would translate to “The wax eye” – and holds a strong connection to this Dutch saying.
The second concept would be the eye itself. Within (sub)cultures it is commonly portrayed as an evil being, or an entity that sees “through”. It is a presence that claims to hold truth, power and reliability.
We refer to The Evil/All Seeing Eye, but use this old Dutch saying to subtly ridicule”.
So it could be said there is more to this than meets the eye. This is most certainly true on a musical level. Let’s get something straight. There is nothing normal about “Het Wassen Oog”. Ok, it’s music, but it’s music to challenge your sanity and disrupt your nervous system. I love it. Twisted rhythms mix with manic screams, jazz, epic soundscapes and progressive twists. I heard the fire of Enslaved, the avant-garde insanity of Asgaard and the irregular experimentation of Ephel Duath. It’s heavy. It’s sinister. It’s unusual. It’s weird. Oh yes.
“Vacuüm Behoud” (Vacuum Retention) starts us off. This is post metal of a haunting kind. The progression is dreamy and dark. The soundscape is lush. It is interrupted by harsh screams. “Vacuum Behoud” is progressive in the way it takes you to new and interesting places. The drummer drives it along. It’s not overtly black metal, but has that atmosphere. Epic screams mix with shuffling sounds. This mix of everything atmospheric makes this such an exciting track. Bloody hell. This is what I’ve been waiting for. “Ceci n’est pas un souvenir” (This isn’t a memory) is the enigmatic final line of this most dynamic and different track. “Schone Schijn” (Appearances) reinforces the enigma. The distorted pagan-style moaning voice blends with the jazz piano, and is overtaken by screams. The bass guitar pumps out menace. We’ve hit a non-stop world of avant-garde experimentation. And it’s disturbing and weird. But what is striking in spite of all this unbalancing music is its sheer power. To start, the disturbed riff and haunting voice characterise “Zomersneeuw” (Summer Snow). It stops. It takes off on a dreamy tune before being rudely interrupted by screams. With the deranged and nightmarish “Ondersteboven” (Upside Down), I realised I was listening to the music equivalent of a nervous breakdown.
The world becomes explosive, dark, black, heavy, deathly. Thus starts Haat and Bonhomie (Hate and Bonhomie). The mood becomes more mellow but inevitably more spooky and sinister, twisting our brain in the process. “Blind Staren” (Stare Blindly) starts. A piece of jazz metal precedes a ferocious screaming black soundscape. Walls are coming down. I didn’t detect any bonhomie. It cuts to a sinister bass-underscored jazz line. The dual hi-lo vocal defies convention, but nothing here is conventional. From the experimental Asgaard style, the instrumentals expand into a world of fire and expanse. And it was while listening to “Blind Staren” that I realised who much of this reminds me of: Enslaved. This is fire sweeping through the earth. These epic instrumentals and fearsome screams are Laster’s response to the Vikings. From this we progress to the strange and repetitious “Weerworm”. Voices enter this scary, nightmarish scene, uttering the words: “The weatherworm dreams of wolves, The moth dreams of the blue light. And I?” Got it? Yeah. I’m in some another world here. Am I? A moody and distorted saxophone sounds supplements the monotone pattern which runs through this latest challenge to convention. “Zinsbetovering” (Phantom Spell) come along to invade our mind with screams and twisted rhythms. This is manically epic. It’s all seemingly held together by string but held together it is as we’re taken on a final brain-leaking adventure.
This album completely stopped me in my tracks. This is one of the most interesting, original and brilliant albums I’ve heard in ages. “Het Wassen Oog” challenged me, but I always felt part of its dark and utterly unhinged interior. Are they having a laugh – the subtle ridicule, maybe? Well I enjoyed it, and its sheer imagination brought me great joy. It’s utterly nuts but its music is magnetic and exudes a very dark freedom, but freedom nevertheless. So please excuse me now. I need to ring my psychiatrist.
(10/10 Andrew Doherty)