Much like a rumor, Dødheimsgard grows as it goes. While the quicksand of their nightmarish soundscapes initially offers little ground to stand on, each subsequent listen to one of their albums somewhat solidifies the soil until a fickle balance is reached, and the listener can begin to make sense of the bizarre sonic blasphemy that is being thrown at him. Although the Norwegian veterans have over the past two decades built themselves quite the reputation for seeking out the grotesque and otherworldly, their brand-new album A Umbra Omega may prove their most challenging release to date. With the aid of returning vocalist Aldrahn, six songs chronicle Dødheimsgard’s latest descent into madness. And while these stretched-out compositions contain some of the band’s finest moments to date, band-leader Vicotnik and his companions occasionally bite off more aberration than even they can chew.
After the obligatory instrumental one-minute intro, the first two “real” tracks of A Umbra Omega already account for the album’s first half hour. “Aphelion Void” and “God Protocol Axiom,” as they are called respectively, make clear that Dødheimsgard’s advancing age has not induced any will to settle for a normalized take on black metal. Dissonant riffing is interspersed with more eerie, placid moments reminiscent of the cult act Ved Buens Ende, an avant-garde metal project in which Vicotnik was also involved. Meanwhile, Aldrahn delivers his iconic deranged crooning, unsettling as ever, soaring over each riff with such dominance that it is as if he never left the band.
Stylistically, this album finds itself in the grey area between Dødheimsgard’s 1998 EP, Satanic Art, and their divisive 1999 full-length, 666 International. From the former, this release lifts the hyper-fast, complex riffing, whereas the ghost of 666 International manifests itself in the way these riffs are thrown together with more off-beat ideas, such as the rotten, quasi operatic mid-section of “Architect of Darkness.” In addition to this throwback to Dødheimsgard’s glory days, A Umbra Omega features a multitude of drawn-out sections during which the bass guitar, with a jazzlike vibe, hovers over dissonant chords, much akin to the modus operandi of Virus, an avant-garde rock project that arose from the ashes of the aforementioned Ved Buens Ende.
The plethora of wildly different influences that stand at the base of A Umbra Omega‘s psychotic concoction is also what sometimes drags down the listening experience as a whole. While Dødheimsgard offers plenty in the way of novel ideas, the band does not always succeed in intertwining these parts to the point where they justify being part of the same composition. To put it more simply, real transitions between different parts of a song are often lacking. While this makes the listening experience an unpredictable and therefore exciting one, it also prevents ideas and motifs from being developed across songs. Each composition rather feels like a collection of insular ideas which, while largely good in their own right, fail to convey a coherent idea, emotion or atmosphere to the listener. Whether it is due to Dødheimsgard’s refusal to adhere to convention or a simple oversight on the composer’s behalf is anyone’s guess, but the disjointed nature of A Umbra Omega decreases the impact this music could have had on the listener.
A Umbra Omega offers a novel take on the Norwegian avant-garde sound that all but died after black metal entered the new millennium. As usual, the estranging music that Dødheimsgard bring to the table will take a long while before it is fully digested. Despite its growth potential, it is already obvious that this release suffers from some problems that prevent it from being the album it could have been. Whereas erraticism and chaos have always been fundamental components of Dødheimsgard’s schtick, most of the compositions on their latest albums are less than the sum of their parts. Seeing as the parts themselves are of considerable quality, the resultant fabric is still presentable, although one cannot help but wonder where a tighter focus would have led this endeavour. Whether this is a manifesto of insanity or a declaration of incoherence is for the listener to decide. But even if one should not find solid ground while listening to A Umbra Omega, wiggling in quicksand is fun while it lasts.