Distinctly I remember hearing David Bowie interviewed many years ago and to paraphrase, he expressed quite eloquently his impressions of British Rock musicians, particularly of the 90’s when the interview occurred being more painterly than their American counterparts. His words and their potential meaning were something that resonated quite strongly and one could lend Bowie’s words to a discussion of extreme music styles. Although Death Metal is subjectively my leaning there is an argument that objectively Black Metal, Doom Metal and their respective offspring have evolved into far more painterly forms over the last few decades. They seem more purposeful about the placement of elements and arrangements with a precision of form dominant over the technical superiority of individual elements. (0) harken from this branch of the old dead tree from which all dark sap springs with their restrained compositions, sense of space and calculated sound palette.
With their debut album “SkamHan,” (0) have evoked Bowie’s words in the most beautiful of ways: painterly in the sense of care and deliberation in approach, painterly in the sense of art over immediacy, and almost visual in delivery. “SkamHan” is an album that beckons you to the frozen greys of a Danish winter; a soundtrack to prepare you for the coming cold.
The first minute of album opener “Tyndere end Hud” (transl. Thinner than Skin) calls to mind Post-Metal, Post-Rock even Alternative-Rock with its tasteful guitar sound and melodic sensibilities. Tremolo picked warning is then briefly sounded before Black Metal brutality is unleashed in an instantly gratifying wall of reverberated thunder. These first salvos serve as the most fitting of entrees for seven songs of accomplished artistry that drudge and damage in alternate measure.
(JU) and (MA) are artisans of very particular guitar tones that give a feeling of restraint in terms of gain, and retain clarity as the visual reverbs and delays take hold to create a sonic space. Droning arpeggios drift incessantly through “Sjælstjæler” (transl. Soul Stealer) and set the scene for a beautiful six minute travail that is trudging, laborious and dark. These forms are not usually of great appeal to Your Grouchy Friend but here they are completely compelling and demand listen after listen: this is sound in which one may immerse. It has been said that deep listening is a dying pastime in the digital age but I implore you to shut the curtains, put on your headphones or turn up your best speakers, close your eyes and receive “SkamHan” to its provocative fullest.
Immediacy meets painterly on personal favourite “Skarntyder” (transl. Filth Sayer). This song is heavy, hook laden and features vocalist (FJ) stepping to the fore and blasting the listener with the full force of his guttural splendour. (MC)’s bass is unveiled in solo during the song’s middle section and his sound is crushing – this brief break down really does pull the ear to the low end as the listening experience continues in this and the remaining tracks. Unmistakeably catchy and brutal whilst retaining the sonic space and artistry of the broader album, “Skarntyder” is on very high rotation for this reviewer right now it must be said.
For those who consider themselves connoisseurs of extreme vocal delivery, “Rød Glorie” (transl. Red Halo) sets with its echo and string laden introduction a delicate and macabre scene for (FJ) to deliver some of the best vocal work Your Grouchy Friend has heard in some time. He sounds immense, imposing and completely in control throughout the song taking leave only for several minutes of delay drenched instrumental splendour driven to climax by (JK)’s restrained yet pounding drumming. (FJ) then returns to guide home the slowly rotting aesthetic with consummate devilry. “Rød Glorie” creates such visceral darkness and beauty, a sense of epic journey and is another prominent track on an album of high calibre
Engaging with Post-Rock chord play, “Sortfugl” ensures interest and breadth of musicality yet holds true thematically with its blackened verse structure and gentle interlude. Passages in this one feel melancholically major in melody, dare one say almost in the fashion of selections of The Cure’s work – not overbearingly so but enough to sufficiently elucidate the remarkable flavour of (0). This piece moves gracefully through a drifting and changing number of passages in prog fashion, and its sense of development makes it a structural achievement in line with the painterly aesthetic.
Which brings the listener to the title track, another nine minute epic in “SkamHan” with a slow lumbering rhythm and droning guitar elements that evolve in progressive fashion. (0) are masterful in their creation of simple, effective soundscapes that forebode with their moderation and precision, and “SkamHan” is a track that emphasises these strengths. It is also demonstrative of the lyricism at play, which although Danish the band have been good enough to translate to English and post for their fans (see link below). The lyrical structure is in many ways emblematic of the music itself: sparse, dark and cold which only serves to add further weight to the overall artistry. Danish is a language that frankly espouses such dark themes far more effectively than English to my ear: perhaps because it is foreign and unknown to me, and therefore the perfect cohort for the mystery of the musicality. There are a number of lines that translate beautifully but it seems fitting to let the title track speak here:
A glimpse of sunken skin
A drift in silent time
There is something about those words that comport with the overarching elegance of the album: simple, precise and effective. The closing lyric portrays the pure and drifting feeling of the departing instrumental “Alle Renses,” an exercise in synthesised atmospherics and a fitting footnote to the album suggestive of both closure and the potential to come.
The Metal Wanderlust’s writers have noted on more than one occasion that 2020 is proving positively deluvian with a flood of extreme music releases of the highest order. (0) have added more than another rivulet to this outpouring with their debut release “SkamHan,” a frosted Scandinavian experience that unquestionably ensures the bounteous waters of 2020 run bitterly cold.
This is yet another must-listen (Your Grouchy Friend has been fortunate in the calibre of what has come across his desk) and a sure-fire 5/5.
Rating – look up.