The perception of black metal as being a regressive genre is, on the whole, a fair one. Both musically and politically, all too often the genre can be stagnant, stuck worshipping the same records from the early 90’s and the misguided beliefs of a few hateful individuals. In some ways, it’s this which makes it all the more notable when a band demonstrates just how vibrant and varied black metal can be. Such is the case for 夢遊病者(Sleepwalker), who have established a reputation in recent years as one of the most genre-defying of black metal bands. Their records are what happens when black metal is used as a starting point and creativity is then allowed to expand where it will. In their case this has previously taken in noise, psychedelica, free jazz, and prog, with albums like 一期一会 (For This Time Only, Never Again) and 5772 drawing as much from the musical ethos of King Crimson and Sun Ra as they do Mayhem or Xasthur. Noč Na Krayu Sveta continues in that style, but still sounds different and new compared to what has gone before, even in the context of Sleepwalker’s discography.
Consisting of two lengthy tracks, Noč Na Krayu Sveta is an album that rewards deep listening and focus. Black metal is only the starting point here; what’s much more important to the sound and spirit of the album is its use of extended atmospheric passages. They’re a whirlwind of sound and sensation, as captivating as they are uncomfortable, like the most nightmarish take on psychedelica imaginable. The last half of first song ‘Boundless Love / Resilience’ in particular is a deeply unsettling experience, with instruments fading in and out of the hazy mix like ghosts flittering at the edge of your vision (and it’s worth noting at this point how many different instruments and guests there are on Noč Na Krayu Sveta, with violins, flute, trumpet, and more besides all making themselves known at various points).
This feeling of ghostly structures and sensations continues on the second track, ‘Redemption / Retaliation’. Even if it feels here like more traditional metal instruments take the fore, an otherworldly atmosphere surrounds them, lending even familiar sounds an alien quality. It rapidly veers between different leads and moods, a roiling storm of emotion where what is calm one moment quickly shifts into something far more hostile and uncomfortable. Yet despite this it still feels captivating, even welcoming to those who are willing to meet the song (and album) on its own terms.
Noč Na Krayu Sveta is a record that asks a lot of the listener; there’s no easy way in, so you just have to keep throwing yourself into its maelstrom until you find something to hold on to. Yet doing so is highly rewarding; there’s an emotional arc to Noč Na Krayu Sveta that is absent in a lot of experimental music, and it feels like the technical skill on display serves to underline this emotional aspect of the music rather than make it sterile and self-indulgent. Even if there are few discernible riffs, there’s plenty of emotionally driven movement and character to latch on to. And while Noč Na Krayu Sveta would be notable enough for its creative, experimental character even without that, it’s the emotional aspect of the album which makes it so powerful and difficult to ignore. It may not be black metal as it’s commonly known or understood, but Noč Na Krayu Sveta is further proof that Sleepwalker should be considered one of the genre’s most creative forces today.
Noč Na Krayu Sveta is out now and can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain