Sometimes an album name perfectly captures the sound you’re about to ingest. There’s no trickery, no attempt to lure you into a false sense of security. So when I tell you that Negative Atonal Dissonance, the new album by UK black metal project MRTVI is exactly what it name implies: if you’re looking for a record that reaches for a level of experimentation and extremism while keeping one foot in some blasting philosophical black metal, you’re knocking on the right door.
Back in 2015 when we reviewed Perpetual Consciousness Nightmare, the running line from sole member Damjan Stefanovic was to “explore the negative dissonance of the aural and emotional spectrum” by introducing queasy shifts in tempo and blending tones in such a way as to convey the claustrophobic qualities of our darkest dreams. This sense of compression and and chaos is escalated on Negative Atonal Dissonance as Stefanovic brings in elements of jazz and fusion to wash the listener in conflicting sounds (there’s a good interview with Stefanovic over at Soundscape). It’s successful in part, but there are definitely trade-offs to be made for the album overall.
Surprisingly, this melding of ideas both musical and philosophical work best in the spoken word opener, “As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh Part 1.” There is a gradual escalation over the course of seven minutes of squeals, digital sirens and distorted waves of sound as Stefanovic’s voice reverberates back and forth (this is most definitely a “wear headphones” album) about the transmuting of flesh and soul to the matter-less void in an effort to know better the world of nothing. Normally bands would keep this down to a minute or two as prelude to a proper song, but as the seventh minutes crawls slowly to eight and a subsonic tone rises in intensity it’s worth noting how the track keeps you engrossed.
The second tracks, which concludes the song, doesn’t fare quite as well. “Part 2” moves into more chaotic territory, but compresses its choas into recognizable chunks so it can function as riffs. When it takes a moment to open up, as it does about four minutes in as drums and bass act as counterpoint to increasingly rising guitar lines that grate against each other you can get a sense of the the connection MRTVI is making. Elsewhere though the syncopation and squeals fail to add up; even as new instruments are introduced they more often than not get a little lost in the maelstrom being created.
The closing 20-minute title takes this to a further extreme, as sounds crash and collide against each other as the vocals howl in digital anguish. As sound collage it almost works, as fragments of vocals carry through the mix, but as something to revisit the lack of a framework to hang it on makes it something more to admire once than come back to again and again. Which isn’t to say it isn’t to say it’s not interesting: in fact I’d go to bat for Stefanovic and say this was exactly his intent in creating the track, as it definitely recalls some of the seminal work of artists like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane (particularly his output from Ascension onward) and even to some extent the orchestral work of composers like Berg and Webern. But there’s a distance here that fails to pull you into the madness, as if you’re purposely being kept at arm’s length.
There are going to be some people who are going to love what MRTVI are doing with Negative Atonal Dissonance. This is definitely a record that was not made for all people. There’s also no arguing the talent that is being channeled into the tracks, and the honesty on display, so if you’re looking for something that is indeed atonal, dissonant, and negative, you’ve come to the right place.