To me, black metal can generally be summed up with one of three categories: 1) a well-executed buzz-saw to the face, 2) poorly-done and tossed aside after one listen, and 3) true boundary pushers within the genre and repeatedly blossoming with nuances unheard and deeper meanings revealed. With his terrific debut, Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare, Damjan Stefanovic’s one-man project, MRTVI, cements its place among the latter. While remaining rooted in black metal, the album pushes the genre’s boundaries firmly into avant-garde territory, with excellent results.
From the first listen, it’s clear Stefanovic has achieved his desire “to explore the negative dissonance of the aural and emotional spectrum.” Dissonance is by and large a part of black metal, but with an array of ever-evolving time shifts and scale-defying guitar passages, you can tell he put a lot of effort went into articulating it here. That’s not to say there are no headbang-worthy parts either; they’re present—including in the bridges of “This Shell Is A Mess”—but they’re short-lived.
Accompanying the album is the story of the aftermath a suicide, but the lyrical content never explicitly touches on this, and you get the feeling it’s more an exploration of another plane of consciousness. “The Unavoidable Conclusion” lends some credence to this idea, with its spoken-word passage consisting solely of an excerpt from Leo Tolstoy’s “Confessions” memoir, about a period in life when old priorities and accomplishments lose their meaning and new beginnings are unclear.
The thickly-layered guitars and vocals leave you feeling dizzy and suffocated, especially during “Existence Makes Me Sick” and “Hopelessly Optimistic.” The black metal undercurrent—blazing riffage, shrill vocals, etc.—settles under more unorthodox qualities: higher-pitched feedback, yelled vocals, you name it. The drums are fast and frenetic but do a great job holding everything together in an otherwise extremely chaotic landscape. This may not sound like a great listen for most, but the beauty of the work here is in its replay value: the more you hear it, the more it opens up.
We do get a couple of well deserved breaks in the action with the “Intermediate Stages” acts. One is an unnerving acoustic interlude and the other a tribal drum track layered with chimes. It’s a nice yin-yang in the story: the first part describes the subject spiralling downward into insanity, while the second serves as a turning point toward a realization of a life unfinished.
Truth be told, your first listen through Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare may leave you feeling a bit conflicted. It’s a very challenging album, but one that hooks its claws deeper into you with each successive spin. Listening to the arc of the album as a whole and diving into possible interpretations, you’ll start to recall low times in your own life and relate them to what you hear. It’s rare to find an album powerful enough to reflect on at that level, but for me this transcendent debut did just that.