Formed amidst the strife of the second wave of black metal in the 90s, Blut Aus Nord’s debut Ultima Thulee took the black metal world by storm in 1995. If there’s one thing to say about their debut, it’s that it lacked character and whilst it stands on its own as a release today, it’s influences still permeate far too recognisably throughout its sound. Ultima Thulee’s follow up – the extravagantly titled Memoria Vetusta I: Fathers Of The Icy Age – built on this sound to great effect, and arguably laid down many of the cornerstones for Blut Aus Nord’s transcendent ethos.
Released in 1996, at a time when black metal was increasingly becoming a transcendent musical force, ‘Memoria Vetusta I was (and still is) a shining example of triumphant, forward-thinking Viking black metal. Twenty years on, Blut Aus Nord are still very much innovating. As their latest release Deus Salutis Meae’s gloriously transcendent industrial landscapes have moved into far weirder, obfuscated territory (catch the review here), the cornerstones of the band’s far more advanced sound, and progressive ethos can be found comfortably nestled within
The album’s sound is born of two of black metal’s most progressive forces: Bathory and Enslaved. Whilst the axe-grinding tempos and razor-sharp delivery of the album were very much influenced by the frozen riffscapes of Immortal and Enslaved, the release also looked to the plodding, keenly melodic yearning of Bathory’s early 90s output.
Enslaved’s musical influence on Memoria Vetusta’s sound is very tangible on the release, but in the abstract, Memoria Vetusta’s connection to Norse Mythology followed closely in the footsteps of Enslaved’s fantastical veneration of their heritage. The focus of the release was far more concerned with the cavernous locales and supernatural creatures of Yggdrasil than it was with drudging up a perceived pre-Christian past. The artwork, a romanticized perspective on Norse mythology, moodily lit and adorned with images of Valkyries and Norse deities, set the tone for the album’s epic, minor-key treatise of Norse mythology.
It’s perhaps the Wagnerian aspects of Memoria Vetusta i that are the releases most intriguing, however, and one of the things that marked out Blut Aus Nord for brilliance on their first album. The tightly wound, staccato riffing, intertwined with vaguely operatic vocal harmonies, blazing leads, and rich synth pads, all tied into minor key movements, immersed the listener in a Wagnerian interpretation of Norse black metal. Whilst many across the ’90s black metal spectrum may have liked to compare their music to Wagner’s, on Memoria Vetusta, the comparison was (and still is) justified – not only through the album’s melancholic melody but through its supernatural aesthetic, and most importantly, it’s atmosphere.
To conclude – Memoria Vetusta is not only a striking example of black metal’s occultic, mystical heydey, it was also a predecessor to Blut Aus Nord’s progressive ethos that still holds up today. The release stands as an act of ancestor worship, the mystical Implications of its subject matter and synth-laden paeans to the Norse pantheon a precursor to the transcendent whirlwind of obfuscated sound and ideology prominent in Blut Aus Nord’s sound in the modern day.
Blut Aus Nord’s Deus Salutis Meae is out now, get it here.