Before diving into this write-up, for the sake of context, I do think it’s worth acknowledging how long it has been since I’ve isolated myself with an album with the intent of piecing together a full review. I eventually gave up scrolling back in our posts trying to find my last album review. Yes, it has been that long. So, drawing inspiration from other members of our team, I opted for an album on this week’s release lineup virtually at random. That, my friends, is how we got here today… a deep dive into the debut full-length from mysterious United States ambient black metal project Oceansnow. And all told, if Vivienne serves as the beginning, the emergence of this project will prove to be a welcomed one.
On the surface, if I had asked you (or anyone, of course) to describe what an ambient black metal album should sound like, Vivienne would probably fit the mold pretty well. From the outset of “Couloir,” we are thrown against a wall of atmospheric black metal, in both structure and energy, forged together with a melodic droning within it all. And this general formula stays true through the album, with moments of doom mixed in for good measure. A simple enough formula, perhaps? Well, maybe not.
Yes, these seven tracks are on the lengthier side, driving the aforementioned style home almost too blatantly, to the point where differentiating between tracks can be a challenge. But does that matter? Because with all that, there are overall qualities to the structures Oceansnow have built that allow this album to wander forward effortlessly. The instrumental and ambient-focused interludes contained within these waves of black metal, for example the middle stages of “Alluvium & Illuvium” and the closing moments of “Epilog: Felsenmeer” (the latter of which I can’t help but align with Mantle-era Agalloch), do enough to make each track feel like a specific journey, without ever feeling disjointed. Serving as either moments of respite in the middle of a track, or a transition between them, the impact of these seemingly subtle influences is appreciated each and every time. From there, the general production of Vivienne deserves a nod as well. Here, while the melodic ambience is a primary part of the foundation, the slightly raw nature of the end product keeps the contrasting elements in balance. It enshrouds everything in a layer of fog (not to reference the album art too obviously), equalizing everything with an organic, natural feel. Overly polished, and this can quickly feel artificial to a listener. Instead, we are presented with something that becomes the very environment it should be experienced in.
Building off some earlier points, perhaps the overall runtime of Vivienne, clocking in at almost an hour, is a bit exaggerated. A reactionary feeling inevitably stemming from the overall consistency of the product, and the extensive 14-minute droning closure that is “Astrosporina” — a send-off I’m still trying to come to appreciate. However, there is a tradeoff that comes with all of this. Vivienne is incredibly easy to get lost in. There is a state of being that I am regularly seeking, yet rarely obtaining, where this atmosphere is nothing short of the ideal musical companion. This album begs to be absorbed in a place of solitude, surrounded by the natural world, and as an audience we owe it to ourselves to find such a setting (in contrast to my current existence — a work desk, on a work day). Sometimes, it’s all about perspective, and where and how you are exploring such an album.
There is a lot to appreciate in Oceansnow’s debut. The elements may be familiar, and the formula may feel straightforward, but that does not diminish how well it all comes together on Vivienne, nor the impact it has on an audience. This is precisely what I would look (and hope) for in ambient black metal, an album that surrounds you with atmosphere and absolutely soars from start to finish. If Vivienne is only the beginning, there is a lot to look forward to from Oceansnow in the years ahead.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”