As a musical genre, black metal is all too often in thrall to rules and boundaries, where bands and artists will draw from well-defined templates to produce something familiar – the multitude of sub-genre labels is both a symptom and cause of this, as is our natural tendency to sort things into ordered categories. It makes it harder for something genuinely challenging to arise, both from the creative viewpoint where artists may (subconsciously) impose barriers upon their art; but also from the position of the music actually being brought to the attention of listeners – when something is unusual and challenges genre norms, how can labels and the press market it?
Which brings us to The Child Septentrion Danced for Two Days by solo act Vacillations. It is neither black metal nor folk, yet it is both of these things and more besides. Consisting of two untitled tracks, the tape is an exercise in music as cathartic art, a casting out of pain through acoustic guitars, dark ambient drones, primitive percussion, and pained shrieks. It is the kind of music that demands attention and is bound to leave a lasting impression.
The first side is the more dramatic of the two. A gentle (yet dark) acoustic opening and soft chimes builds into a full-blooded attack of furious acoustic guitar and shrieked vocals, that feels more like an exorcism that a song in the conventional sense. The raw production buries most of the details, but they barely matter – the emotional impact is what counts, and in that sense the song is undeniable. It refuses to sit still, ebbing and flowing not so much like a river but like a flood sweeping all before it, with the moments of relative calm still pregnant with the potential for further emotional bloodletting. A comparison could be made to Negura Bunget, but that would fail to capture the personal spirit present on The Child Septentrion…
The second side of the tape is quite different; an eight-minute dark ambient piece build upon drones and sparse, primitive percussion, it is brooding and calmer than the first song, yet still possessed of a darkness, albeit of a different kind. It feels like a comedown from the fevers of the opener, thematically and emotionally consistent more than musically. That there is less to say about this track compared to the first side should not be seen as a comment on the quality of the second side, but on just how distinctive and shocking the first one is.
Vacillations is described as “outsider art” by the label releasing the cassette version, and it’s probably the only tag that does it justice. The Child Septentrion… does not fit comfortably within any genre, yet possesses the DNA of several. It is a highly personal piece, yet expresses something universal. It is highly uncomfortable, yet hard to look away from it. It is quite remarkable, and will not be forgotten anytime soon by those who hear it.
The Child Septentrion Danced for Two Days is out now via The Throat and can be purchased here.
Words: Stuart Wain