• Eirik Aspaas
  • Dødheimsgard

Dødheimsgard began as a relatively orthodox black-metal band—Fenriz from Darkthrone plays bass on their first full-length, 1995’s Kronet til Konge—but by the end of the 90s this Oslo collective had plunged into the avant-garde like truants into a flooded quarry, undergoing the kind of transformation more commonly associated with mystics returned from wandering in the desert or anchorites immured for years in cells so small they couldn’t lie down. These guys didn’t just learn to open their third eyes—they’re on their fourth or fifth.

DHG’s fifth full-length, A Umbra Omega, comes out in mid-March on Peaceville Records. It’s their first in eight years, and guitarists and vocalists Vicotnick and Aldrahn (the latter back after a long absence) are the only founding members on board. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track, the 15-minute “Aphelion Void,” lacks the somewhat dated-sounding cybernetic patina of the band’s two previous albums, but even without those daffy electronics it manages to be profoundly strange.

Tremolo-picked riffs unspool and rewind like tape speeding up and slowing down, butting into each other in such a jumble of bar lengths that I gave up counting a couple minutes along. The track creates channel surfer’s maniacal collage of moods, especially in its quieter interludes. One such passage combines vaguely churchy piano and distant, distracted-sounding saxophone; another, noodly jazz-fusion bass and borderline psychedelic processed guitar; a third, sinister bass synth and chiming, delay-treated arpeggios straight out of the U2 handbook.

An almost pretty, largely acoustic break uses picked steel-string guitar, jaunty strumming, background choral ooh-oohs, and what sounds like a tambourine—and of course slams immediately into a brick wall, segueing into the fastest sawtooth blastbeat in the track. When the acoustic bit returns, it adds delicate upper-register harmonics and queasy dips of comically bent strings.

This all hangs together because the vocals are as batty and overboard as the music. They’re driven more by their own cadences than by the rhythms of the song, their inflections full of melodramatic swoops and leaps, like those of a desperate preacher who’s made himself hoarse trying to keep his congregation awake—except that they’re often double-tracked or processed in that distressing way that cheap horror flicks often use to indicate possession by unfriendly spirits.

This isn’t easy music to digest, much less enjoy, but I can’t help but feel favorably inclined toward anything that will so surely piss off metal’s humorless genre police.