, September 15th, 2011 08:26
Solar Anus, the fifth album by necromantic Norwegians Årabrot, is like the film Valhalla Rising come to life. Danish journeyman director Nicolas Winding Refn completed something of berserk, brilliant uniqueness in his 2009 film that eschews car chases and über-constipated looking gangsters for a more contemplative (if no less violent) tale set in Norway 1,000 years ago.
The movie, which features an avant metal soundtrack by Peter Kyed and Peter Peter, is about a tattooed beast of a one-eyed man who is kept prisoner for the purposes of organised fighting matches. He escapes and decides to leave Norway with Christian converts who are heading to the Holy Lands to take part in the Crusades, but after getting lost in a hellish red fog, lands somewhere altogether stranger.
Solar Anus is in short, a mix of unlikely sources with unexpected but rewarding consequences. It is a stark mix of introspective, trance-like repetition punctuated with implacable bursts of audio violence. Philosophically it looks beyond the simplistic black-and-white view of Norway's pre-Christian mythology espoused by some of the country's second-wave black metal groups to an interpretation of pagan lore that hasn't been debased for reasons of morally bankrupt and cowardly nationalism. They cast their net wide taking in the myth of the Valkyries, Surrealism, the Spanish Inquisition and alchemical practice amongst other fragments of occult and arcane knowledge.
Årabrot's interest in mixing high and low culture (philosophy and noise rock) is reflected by the album title, which refers to George Bataille's concept of man being a mix of both God and animal. The librarian and poet famously wrote the philosophical essay The Story Of The Eye under the pseudonym Lord Auch, which can be translated roughly as Lord Shithouse, which should give you some idea where he was coming from as a thinker. Musically they've moved away from the comparatively restrained Revenge released in 2010, which although great, wore its influences on its sleeve (Melvins, Jesus Lizard, Killdozer, Rapeman). The only real indication of the sonic fury contained on this album before now was heralded by the little known 12" track, 'I Rove' in 2009, which if you've never heard yet you should rectify immediately. A punishing pylon taut bassline gives clangorous support to a monstrous song channeling the dark elemental spirituality of Neurosis, the seething disgust of the Birthday Party and the locked metallic grooves of Overmars. Guitarist/vocalist Kjetil Nernes whispers, hollers, wheedles and screams about a sea fearing voyage that has gone wrong with almost psychedelic consequences - the protagonist fleeing a nameless hunter who is always just out of view.
The band, who take their name from a local rubbish dump near to their home town of Haugesund, just outside of Oslo, have returned to using Steve Albini as recorder and mixer, this time getting the apocalyptic results that 2009's The Brother Seed didn't quite deliver. Nernes gives voice to a phalanx of demons, priests and mad soothsayers while drummer Vidar Evensen explodes across the skins. The core band is now a two piece but several of the tracks have been bolstered with sympathetic analogue electronics courtesy of live auxiliary member Concept.Virus. The alchemical theme of the album is highlighted on the title track not just by the forging of high and low culture but with an Amebix-like compound of punk and metal that doesn't lose any power from either genre by the fusion. I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it until someone pays attention – if you've ever read Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life about the rich history of the American rock underground of the 1980s and found yourself thinking, 'Goddamn, why don't we have bands like Big Black, the Butthole Surfers or Fugazi anymore?' then Årabrot are for you. This is not to say that they are gnarly 1980s retro merchants like the phalanx of MBV and Sonic Youth copyists that litter small labels at the moment. Instead, they have a similarly radical outlook on making bracing, violent, forward-looking and potentially life-changing art.
So while you can hear Killdozer in 'And The Ass Has Spoken', Shellac in 'Valkyrie' and Oxbow in 'Nubile', they are essentially entirely their own band now. Solar Anus represents a new chapter for Årabrot and judging by the ferocious evangelical zeal of closing track 'The Wheel Is Coming Full Circle', this will be a blast. Whether, in these sadly conservative times, this brings them to a bigger audience is another matter entirely. It's been a while coming, but Årabrot have finally earned their reputation as one of Europe's best heavy rock bands.
Årabrot play the Shacklewell Arms for the Quietus on Halloween alongside Vile Imbeciles and Dethscalator. You can buy tickets here