Beautiful Brutality Episode #1: Blut Aus Nord’s The Work Which Tranforms God

The work which transforms god coverI’ve been wanting to do this column for some time. The impetus to share the often hard-won insights culled from three years spent delving deeper and deeper into the basement of the popularly-maligned Black Metal subculture of music is just too good to pass up. I’ve had a list of prospective records and bands that deserve to be written about in a somewhat critical manor for months, I just haven’t had the time. Now then, I do and as such I give to you Episode #1 of my new column here on Joup: Beautiful Brutality.

Blut Aus Nord – a bastardized spelling that in intent if not actual linguistics translates to Blood from the North. Several of this group’s albums – really the realization of one man known only as Vindsval – will likely appear in these pages. Tonight however, we begin with the record that arguably was the portal that transported me into Black Metal; 2003’s The Work Which Transforms God.

There are several versions of this album now but it was the two disc re-issue version published by Candlelight Records in 2005 that I cut my teeth on, the one that included the bonus disc, Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity. Yeah, that second disc’s name is a mouthful; some would say it reeks of pretension. Who cares; when something’s this damned good and, what’s more mysterious, pretension comes with it. That’s fine, as both records alienate more people than they win over. And the vague, nightmarish ambiguity of the title fits the ethereal sound of the music contained within. The five tracks are a sonic journey into the deepest levels of the experimental side of black metal; it owes nothing to anything that came before it and its not interested in taking part in or inspiring anything else. The tracks devolve continuously, a strange Event Horizon that swallowed this unprepared listener and spit him out the other side into a world I didn’t know existed at the time, a world where black metal could be more concerned with its artistic explorations than any claims to the standards that define and, essentially cripple many of the groups and musicians working in the realms of blast beats, snarled vocals and distorted guitars.

I still have a crystal clear memory of that first listen to Thematic Emanations, somewhere around three and a half years ago at 2 AM on a Friday night. I don’t remember exactly why I chose to begin Thematicwith that second, obviously supplemental disc but to this day I’m glad I did. Lying on the floor in my living room with my Sony MDR7506 headphones plugged into the stereo receiver, mind properly filled with the sweet smoke of intoxication I spiraled into this E.P. suddenly and completely. A few of the tracks I had to listen to twice in a row just out of sheer stupefaction. At some point after what felt like a sprawling sonic adventure it came time to switch over to the album proper. I wasn’t really sure what to expect; would it be more eerie, atmospheric soundscapes or perhaps something in the way of a traditional Black Metal sound?

The Work Which Transforms God begins with a sparse instrumental track titled The End; I have since come to think of this as the sound of the listener passing through a membrane into a different world. It’s a subtle, transitional series of sounds that, put at the front of the record, acts as a transition, but a transition from what if it’s at the beginning?

A transition from anything you could ever hope to expect.

The End announces to the listener – now a traveler of sorts – that they are leaving behind that which they know; that they are somehow stepping into a netherworld that will require strength and perseverance to bring anything back from. In hindsight of course it is the perfect introductory track for this album, but at the time it was a piece of sonic detritus that had to be stepped over to get to the ‘real songs’. Keep in mind this was largely my introduction to the progressive side of Black Metal and as such I really did not know how to process anything that came next. So when the transition parted the curtain and I came face to face with opening song The Choir of the Dead it was such a drastic departure from the tone set by Thematic Emanations that I was initially extremely disappointed, so much so that I experienced an actual, physical recoil. Where Thematic Emanations was subtle and progressive this seemed raw and guttural and without nuance. Broad strokes. I hung in there though, convinced that I was wrong; if the band was capable of such craft on one how could they throw it away on the other? I had the sneaking suspicion that the answer it was directly in front of my face and I was simply missing it. And of course, I was right.

I continued through the record for a few songs and my work began to pay off, but not as I initially hoped it would. There are only a very few albums I’ve experienced in my life that have made me physically ill. Not to the point of retching mind you, but to the point that I feel a sense of unease that upsets my stomach, clouds my mind and puts my nervous system on edge. The first time I ever experienced this was when Cypress Hill released Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom. You might laugh if you only know the Hill by their singles or later work, but if you dig deep on III it is a very dark and disturbing album with an almost frightening ability to hypnotize via DJ Muggs loops. As I said, that was the first. Then there’s Throbbing Gristle, and some random noise pieces I’ve discovered via compilations on the Sub Rosa label. And three and a half years ago TWWTG joined that exclusive club, because halfway through that first listen the bitter, dissonant guitar tones, off-kilter drumming and sonically depressive vocals and effects really did a number on me. And of course, this immediately clued me in to the fact that I was standing in the presence of greatness, so to speak. I backed the album up and began again.

The Choir of the Dead appears sloppy and cumbersome at first listen but there is a lot more going on than what that first peek into its shimmering surface would intimate. As I poured over the track again I noticed how the vocals, which are primarily snarled, actually help create a very visual through-line to the song. At about 47 second the track dive bombs; the drums slow and become jagged, the soup of music that includes guitar, bass and I believe some atmospheric keyboards all feel as though a giant pitch wheel brings them down to within a hair from a dead stop, and the vocals take on an eerie howling that confirmed my suspicions of grandeur and served as my entry point to the rest of the record. It is at this point that The Work Which Transforms God became just as nuanced and visual to me as Thematic Emanations; more so even. This passage in the first proper song on the record sets a visual narrative that holds so consistent through the remainder of the record that to this day TWWTG is an Event Record for me – there’s no passivity in listening to this one. The Choir of the Dead begins a song but quickly turns into a soundscape masquerading as a song – at that change the vocals become severe storm winds howling outside a wooden cabin with gaps in the boards that make up the walls, floor and ceiling; the drums become a sporadic downpour that hammers the roof. This is the first moment when I realized that these weren’t just random images and associations flitting through my mind, but images the band was actively working to conjure. This further opened me up to the record, just as the next track, Axis, opens a door to hell, its guitars a throbbing, distant light that beckons the traveler out of that ancient cabin and into a labyrinthine underworld. From here it’s dark, wet corridors of decay and rooms obscured by great banks of industrial steam. The traveler continues the journey – a frightening one those first few, unfamiliar times* – via a progression of tracks that I have still not found anything to compare to. Uncharted territory previously untread by man except perhaps in his nightmares and hallucinations. The only way markers along this path of lunacy are tracks 7 and 12, Our Blessed Frozen Cells and Procession of Dead Clowns, respectively. It is here, in these strange sister pieces that the music flays briefly, dripping out from around itself to reveal something more akin to melody, as if just to have something to act as a point of reference for the traveler, who without them would surely be in danger of becoming lost and thus, unable to completely return from the experience. This sounds grandiose but it’s not: there is a certain strain of madness contained in this album that I feel could definitely damage some peoples’ compass; it is music with a visual component so beautifully fleshed out by the continued strategic approach to instrumentation that it becomes more a collection of ideas than of songs. And ideas can do damage. Tracks #7 and #12 let you know that although you’re in over your head, you still have the means by which to recognize this.

Another album by Blut Aus Nord that I plan to address in this column, Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars is a perfect example of an album that labors under ideas of musical composition first and soundscape only as a result of that composition. It is a contemplation on perfecting the melodies that a particular vein of early 90’s death metal bands sought to evoke the royal hierarchies of Medieval society with. Conversely, TWWTG has absolutely no concern for melody for melody’s sake. TWWTG is an exercise in visual songwriting and that means none of the tracks move or feel like traditional songs. Ever. This disorientates more people than it impresses, but if you’re like me and are impressed by being craftily disorientated it’s a pure joy to listen to.

You can buy The Work Which Transforms God in its most recent form, a beautifully re-mastered, re-packaged edition from Debemur Morti Productions HERE.blut-aus-nord

(Sidenote: One of the things I later came to realize about Blut Aus Nord and TWWTG in particular is the massive Godflesh influence. Godflesh and pretty much everything Justin K. Broadrick does is in my holiest of holies category, so it makes perfect sense that this album and BAN in general made such an enormous impression on me. Imagine how wonderful it was then, to see that for the Debemur Morti re-release of TWWTG they added a cover of Godflesh’s Mighty Trust Krusher? Absolutely perfect as the closing track of the fourth side of the double 180 gram vinyl.)

And there’s some Blut Aus Nord (and a lot of other great music) HERE on Debemur Morti’s bandcamp.


* Or is it more frightening that these sonic plagues have become familiar and even, dare I say, comforting?

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

2 Responses to Beautiful Brutality Episode #1: Blut Aus Nord’s The Work Which Tranforms God
  1. kacamata hitam pria Reply

    I continued through the record for a few songs and my work began to pay off, but not as I initially hoped it would. There are only a very few albums I’ve experienced in my life that have made me physically ill. Not to the point of retching mind you, but to the point that I feel a sense of unease that upsets my stomach, clouds my mind and puts my nervous system on edge. The first time I ever experienced this

  2. […] is the kind of record I will eventually write about at length in the oft-delayed column Beautiful Br...

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