Trance With the Devil: Oranssi Pazuzu shuffle off this mortal coil and into unmapped territory
dB Rating: 9/10
Release Date: February 26th, 2016
Label: 20 Buck Spin
From the pastoral repetition of Burzum to the umbrageous drone of Wolves in the Throne Room, black metal has long been obsessed with hypnotizing its listeners. It’s not enough to bombard with riffs and time signatures; bands that create truly oppressive atmospheres know that the most disturbing emotions are often found between the layers, and when they’re finally wrenched from their hiding spots, it can be a profound catharsis for everyone involved.
Oranssi Pazuzu are well-acquainted with this trance tip—since forming in 2007, they’ve been carefully refining their distinctive brand of psychedelic black metal via three excellent full-lengths (including Valonielu, which came in at #26 on our Top 40 list in 2013) and a split with cult avant-garders Candy Cane. Now, with the release of their fourth LP, Värähtelijä, they’re positioned to take over the top spot in an oft-overlooked subgenre that’s as mystical as it is primal.
Don’t be misled by the tag: this ain’t your standard second-wave black metal with some Dark Side of the Moon worship thrown in for esotericism’s sake. Oranssi Pazuzu’s psychedelia is grim, foreboding and intensely original, like if “Set the Controls”-era Pink Floyd took a wrong turn during an LSD trip and ended up in an uncharted Hell dimension. The Finns build songs based on layered repetition—musical themes are explored on guitar and bass, but ultimately, it’s the swirling colors of the band’s collective freakout power that makes them unique.
And lest you think this album would be more at home in Scott Seward’s defunct “Wages of Din” column, Oranssi Pazuzu also showcase a powerful grasp of melody throughout Värähtelijä (which translates to either “harmonic oscillator” or “vibrator,” if the Internet can be trusted), like the slinky bass lines that run through “Havuluu” and the eerie synth refrains on “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous.” Indeed, the saturated landscapes created by keyboardist EviL are crucial to the band’s ability to entwine the surreal and familiar, especially during the final three minutes of expansive opener “Saturaatio” and the 17-minute astral mindfuck that is “Vasemman Käden Hierarkia.” Vocalist/guitarist Juho Vanhanen (who moonlights in Grave Pleasures) plays an important role as well—with his tortured, spellbinding howl, he’s the demented ferryman who offers ominous guidance as you float toward the City of the Damned.
At seven songs in 70 minutes, Värähtelijä is no casual listen; it’s a dense, heady odyssey into the shadowy recesses where noise meets melody— a place that’s best explored with headphones, darkness and the medicinal properties of certain plant matter. Aided by Julius Mauranen’s vibrant production, these tunes breathe deeply in the nebulous space they’ve been given, and even if they initially appear impenetrable, multiple spins reveal that they’re well worth the travel time.
— Matt Solis
Review originally printed in the March 2016 issue.