Sunday, 18 October 2015

Brulvahnatu - Uterine Acid Swishes (2009)

Sublime Tragedy

Brulvahnatu's strongest claim to fame is undoubtedly the link to fellow Canadian maniacs Antediluvian, for whom sole member Kib Sreng (T. Mclelland) has played bass at one point. While certain aspects of their amorphous black/death bile have contaminated the sound of the solo project, it is still absolutely unique in the world of extreme metal and very much worth a listen or thousand. To put it a tad pretentiously: if Antediluvian's goal would be to drop the listener into the blackest of quagmires, churning and oozing with alien fossils and spastic megafauna, Brulvahnatu takes the more psychological road of gathering your nightmares, stringing them up at your bedside, and making you participate in their joyride through the landscape of all your repressed memories and secret fears. Fun times.

2009's Uterine Acid Swishes, the first album in an apparently womb-themed trilogy, sees Brulvahnatu coming out with three 17-minute-plus black metal litanies. Kib has surely gone out of his way to make them hard to classify: what we get here is an absolutely demented mix of sickly, jangly chord twanging, meaty riffs that thunder and tumble like a legion of earth worms on steroids, dual vocal styles consisting of the prototypical USBM “tunnel shouting” and a more death metal-like gruff cavern growl, and curiously lo-fi drumming. Coupled with the old-timey piano sporadically interwoven through the guitars, providing an extra layer of sinister foreboding, and a spectacular sample at the climax of closer “Suffer long”, these elements come together in a torrential outpour of misery and self-loathing.

Because – let there be no doubts about this – Uterine Acid Swishes is a mercilessly dark and starkly bleak offering. No infernal triumphs, glorious carnage or awe-inspiring mountain vistas here; the only direction these Swishes flow is straight down. Grimy, mid-paced riff patterns repeat against a backdrop of nauseous string plucking, drop away and reappear in a slightly different guise a few moments later. The piano, which primarily makes a comeuppance in the first and last song – either serving as a subtle background element, sharing the ghastly spotlight with the guitars or, in the case of “Suffer Long”, laying the groundwork of the three movements of the song as the main instrument –, isn't awkwardly stapled on or arbitrarily jammed into the album, but rather functions as a completely natural-feeling extension of the traditional sonic palette of black metal. When the onslaught of filth temporarily halts, such as during the middle of “Autopsy in Mourning”, the clean guitars, quite audible bass and subdued drumming manage to kindle some semblance of warmth and hospitality, like shutting the door behind you when gratefully taking shelter inside wayward cabin, only for the deluge to surge up, burst through the pitiful walls and sweep you away even further into the delirious night.

There is an unmistakable quality of compositional proficiency apparent in all of this; while obviously still firmly rooted in the realm of ugly, chunky, non-wanky black metal upon which the dissonant sun of Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and their experimental cohorts never has set, the many twists and pitfalls, the diversity and sheer depth of the sound, and the organic flow driving the album would entitle Brulvahnatu in at least some way to the nomer of progressive black metal. Apart from the usage of samples and the piano, all ingredients used here are the seminal bread and butter of black metal, but this sugarless mother of all cakes Kib has wrought with them towers, in its multifaceted nature and all its scope, over its half-baked frostbitten brethren in such a way that playing it nearly becomes a cinematic experience. I have to admit, on the first listen I didn't quite pick up on all the nuances of Uterine Acid Swishes and would have had trouble agreeing with my own assessment here, but upon hearing “Suffer Long” I was immediately captivated. Did I say it was a nearly cinematic experience? “Suffer Long” is built up (or rather, down) in such a naturally flowing, nuanced and tragic way that I could wholly imagine Aeschylus blasting it while writing about yet another matricide or betrayal. If you feel unsure about the album, start with this song: I would have a hard time believing that anyone can argue with the final build-up starting around the nineteen minute-mark or remain unmoved when the sample's grotesque laughter segues into Kib's truly hair-raising screaming. And if that isn't your thing: the almost laid-back piano/guitar movement dominating the middle is outright catchy.

Finding flaws with Uterine Acid Swishes is difficult. Published lyrics would certainly add to the album's world-building – the few intelligible parts touching on abortion, the closing shovel samples on “Autopsy in Mourning” and the sinister film noir-ish monologue in the final song lift the veil just enough to let us know Kib's thought all of this through, but other than that the reader is left guessing as to what the album's story entails. A more direct criticism would be the drums: the entire album already straddles the border between classic lo-fi and neutral production, but somehow the drums seem to come right out of a garage. Really though, I don't even know if that is a flaw: the general dreariness of the music is only reinforced by the hollow metallic clanging.

To draw a parallel with other bands is equally problematic: Elysian Blaze's “Blood Geometry” exudes a similar ambitiousness but, other than Brulvahnatu, it neglects the the base filth that the genre is partial to in favour of the lofty theatrical peaks. Still, “Pyramid of the Cold Son” and “Suffer Long” could be distant cousins.

All in all, Uterine Acid Swishes is a highly personal, monumentally unique and unwarrantedly unknown release which manages to be daringly ambitious and openminded while not losing its roots out of sight. Heartily recommended to all who like their black metal to dig deep and cut close to the bone.