Avant-garde metal is by definition unrestrained, experimental, and innovative. Perhaps more so than in other metal subgenres, legacy avant-metal bands might have a harder time outdoing themselves through fear of retreading old paths or simply going in an uninteresting direction. Dødheimsgard make a triumphant return with their first material in eight years with Black Medium Current; this is DHG once again pushing their sound forward with full force in ways blackened as much as avant-garde, and the result is one of the finest albums of the year so far.
2015’s A Umbra Omega was an album that, despite all its eccentricities, often kept the black metal and other elements well-segregated — if there was any general song formula to that release, it was to hook you with blistering tremolo-picked riffs and blast beats before abruptly venturing off into uncharted weirdness (usually abandoning the metal elements entirely). Black Medium Current, on the other hand, has a more compelling ebb and flow between what’s heavy and not; tracks like “Tankespinnerins Smerte” may begin with standard black metal chord walls, but before long you are eased into an odd-time clean guitar section led by Vicotnik’s multilayered vocal stylings. Eased is the key word there, as there’s not a lot of abruptness on this album — I’m not sure what musical influences Vicotnik absorbed prior to the writing of Black Medium Current but based on the material showcased here I’d put my money on any number of atmospheric and post-black metal artists. The manner in which the aforementioned track builds up to its stellar conclusion is easily one of the finest moments on the album.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t healthy doses of weirdness on this album; opener “Et Smelter” ends with synth-heavy rock and a tremendously bluesy guitar solo, “Interstellar Nexus” features dance-friendly industrial rhythms backed by spacey keyboards before a drastic shift into electronic beats, and of course Vicotnik’s trademark vocals throughout the album. The Dødheimsgard frontman gives a more subdued and vulnerable performance on this release compared to it’s predecessor, but the album is all the better for it — the overly whimsical vocals of Umbra just wouldn’t fit with the atmospherics on display here.
Just as the cover art depicts different wavelengths of light, on a pure sensory level the variety of auditory textures featured on Black Medium Current fully enhances the listening experience. The darkness of atmospheric to dissonant black metal, arpeggiated synths that send you off into the cosmic unknown, immaculately-mixed bass weaving through and around the guitars during clean sections, and so much more to discover. Even if you don’t carefully examine the songwriting and technical abilities Dødheimsgard put on display, moment to moment there’s always something interesting going on.
There’s a lot more that could be said about Black Medium Current, but what will likely solidify this as one of my favorite albums of 2023 is how the change from A Umbra Omega to this album tracks so well with my evolving personal taste. I was introduced to extreme metal through a number of prog and avant-garde metal bands, so that was where a lot of my earlier tastes lied. Umbra is a great, unique album that fit what I wanted at the time, but now can be a bit too much. Black Medium Current perfectly integrates the black and avant-garde elements of the Dødheimsgard sound while subduing some of the past extremities and laying thick the atmosphere, and this is exactly what I didn’t even know I needed from the band. The long wait between albums is par for the course for DHG, but this time it was more worth it than ever before.
Black Medium Current will be available April 14 on Peaceville Records. For more information on Dødheimsgard, check out their Facebook and Instagram pages.
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