What to say, when everything has already been said? I’m a bit late reviewing this. Everybody else has already done it, it seems. It’s quite a challenge, therefore, to find something original and new to say. But I’ll certainly try. I will have to do it in a roundabout way, though, saying first what everybody else said. So, bear with me.
While the official release date for Blut aus Nord’s new album Hallucinogen was October 11th, the band and their label Debemur Morti Productions released the album weeks earlier, because it had been leaked and was making the rounds on the internet. It’s quite an event in the metal world, if such a well-known band releases an album. The leaking in itself is indicative of the band’s importance: If there wasn’t so much interest in the album, it wouldn’t have been leaked.
We got our official digital copy after the leak and closer to the original release date, but since there is a huge amount of material to review, every album has to wait its turn. Even an album by Blut aus Nord.
Normally, I don’t read other people’s reviews before I have written my own, because I want to put down my own thoughts and not versions of somebody else’s. With Hallucinogen, however, it was different. Out of interest, I had already listened to the album and read quite a few reviews before knowing that I would be reviewing it. Now, when I sit down to write my own, I know what others have said about it.
The reactions to Hallucinogen are, in general, overwhelmingly positive. Many reviewers have declared it their album of the year and given it top marks. Although some writers and fans are evidently not quite sure in which compartment to put it, they like it nevertheless. The majority simply refers to it as black metal.
But Hallucinogen is far from being just another black metal album. And that’s evident already in its title and its cover. If you haven’t yet, take a good look at both. Does this look like the cover of a black metal album to you? Right. And while you’re at it, take a look at the covers of the band’s older albums as well. The visible difference alone should tell you that Blut aus Nord is has moved on to another level with Hallucinogen.
Blut aus Nord have always been a somewhat different black metal band. In fact, the French brand of black metal has always been a bit different, rejecting the widespread nationalism, the satanism, and embracing environmentalist stances. French black metal is brainier, more sophisticated, more avant-garde, more French. Which is exactly what makes it interesting. Who wants to listen to other versions of the same, over and over again? And while Deathspell Omega display a love for jazz (You Cannot Even find the Ruins sounds as if Tom Waits decided to give black metal a go), Blut aus Nord have always displayed a fancy for industrial metal and psychedelia, but never so pronounced as on their new album.
Per aspera ad astra the Latin saying goes, or “through hardships to the stars”. Hallucinogen’s cover, and music, however, suggest that there is another way to bliss and enlightenment – through drugs, but not just any drugs, hallucinogens. The cover features a mushroom tree, and the perspective the cover takes is from the base of the tree, from rock bottom. Above the tree, with is multi-eyed mushrooms that obviously will make you see if consumed, there is space in all its vastness and its beauty.
The music on Hallucinogen has multiple strata like the atmosphere of a planet. Traditional black metal elements, like tremolo picking and double kick or blast beat drumming, form the basis onto which industrial and psyche elements have been attached. In addition, and in the background, there is chanting and choral singing, calling medieval times to mind as well as France’s catholic past. Quite a mixture, don’t you think? Hallucinogen’s music is, at the same time, documenting the band’s and their country’s history. And that’s quite something.
Do psychedelia and black metal go together? Well, Blut aus Nord make them go together, and display outstanding compositional skills along the way. But are they a natural pair? I don’t think so. Neither sound-wise, nor philosophically. However, this might exactly be were the album’s innovation lies – in combining the incompatible.
Hallucinogen is indeed an outstanding album. It is innovative and visionary; it is a step forward for a band that has been active for 25 years. It is certainly one of the most important albums of 2019. The only problem I have with it is of a philosophical and conceptual nature and bound to its presuppositions. I just don’t believe that you can cheat your way to enlightenment with drugs. That does not confirm with my reality. There is no circumventing the hardships. And the hardships are what black metal is all about.