Reviews list for Oranssi Pazuzu - Mestarin kynsi (2020)
As the boundaries and edges of metal and music in general continue to be pushed and stretched, almost inevitably the influence of the past moves along with this innovation regardless of the pace or momentum at the time. It's fair to say that roots go along way back and unless you are going to do something really avant-garde and genre defining (genre-creating perhaps?) the relevance of influence is a key component in most band's repertoire regardless of how unique their approach or sound. I should go on record here as saying I like Mestarin kynsi very much. I like its boldness, its depth and its refreshing approach to structure.
Another reason I enjoy the record so much is because it reminds me some damn much of Hawkwind that there's times when i have to check I am not listening to Space Ritual. Like Hawkwind, I feel Oranssi Pazuzu are an acquired taste, not for everyone perhaps but when you do avant-garde this well then you can afford to be niche with your audience. Mestarin kynsi goes beyond mere psychedelia and atmosphere though, it plays like a macabre dance ritual overall. Some soundtrack to the most bizarre of rituals that aims to shift the very fabric of time around you.
What the album does brilliantly is shift through gears effortlessly, jumping from deep atmospheric incantations into progressive structures and dark, black metal intensity in the course of mere minutes yet never letting anything slip out of place, maintaining the revs in gear so nothing feels like it is running away with itself. For all the expansion in tracks there's still the feel of a foot hovering over the brake pedal at all times ready to ease up when required without ever needing an emergency stop.
Melodies soar as leads burst like solar flares on tracks and the atmospherics cleverly track these bursts superbly, raising songs to new heights. The whole album has a feel of organic growth, like a jam session started in the 60's that is still going some sixty years later. It doesn't feel bloated though, which was my main concern going into the record. Although some tracks do stretch the nine or ten minute mark, overall the album is listenable in one sitting and often feels like variances on a theme as opposed to always being unique tracks each time. I'm sold.
Sometimes a release comes along that leaves you wondering what rock you’ve been hiding under. A release whose qualities are so profound that it immediately adjusts the way you think about the world & has you considering new directions that you previously didn’t know existed. I usually find these sort of recordings to be those that question the musical status quo by taking on our stereotypes & showing us that we don’t necessarily know everything just yet & the fifth album from Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu certainly does that.
I’ve been aware of Oranssi Pazuzu since their 2009 debut album “Muukalainen puhuu” but haven’t really given them much time until now to be perfectly honest. I guess my experiences with other supposed “psychedelic black metal” outfits haven’t been all that positive over the years which is unusual given my huge fascination with psychedelic rock & its incorporation into other subgenres like doom metal, sludge metal, post-metal, stoner metal & drone metal. But the overwhelmingly positive critical response to “Mestarin kynsi” has tweaked my interest & its unusual subgenre tagging has finally convinced me that it would be an interesting discussion topic for Metal Academy so I’ve finally bitten the bullet & awarded it feature releases status for The Infinite off the back of its “avant-garde metal” tagging on other sites.
Sometimes releases that challenge the listener’s existing understanding of what extreme metal can be can taken a few listens to fully grasp & can be real growers but “Mestarin kynsi” hit me from the word go, so much so that I immediately started wondering if I might have to rethink my album of the year nomination with only a couple of weeks left in the year. The sounds coming from my speakers were like nothing I’d heard before but also felt so fully realised that I never felt uneasy or required any sort of adjustment period & that’s the sign of a next level artist. The other thing that sprang to mind fairly early on was just how little justice the genre-tagging on other prominent internet sites has been giving Oranssi Pazuzu as they really seem to be clutching at straws. Psychedelic rock? Really? Can you see fans of The Doors or Jimi Hendrix going nuts over this release? They’d likely run for the hills in terror. Avant-garde metal? Well, yes it is avant-garde by the very definition of the term but that tag is usually reserved for releases that sound inherently weird & that require time & familiarity to get comfortable with. The combination of disparate genres you’ll hear on “Mestrin kynsi” is so well executed that you almost feel like you’ve been listening to this stuff your whole life & I found myself instantly comfortable so I don’t regard that tag as being particularly relevant either. And then there’s the black metal thing. There is absolutely no doubt that the vocals of front man Jun-His fall firmly into the black metal camp. In fact, I’d argue that they’re some of the most definitive & powerful in all of black metal & I think that’s a strong enough statement to warrant the album being lumped in with the darkest of metal genres but I hear very little else that hints at genuine black metal from an instrumental point of view to be honest. Interestingly, the subgenre that I feel has the strongest claim on “Mestarin kynsi” is post-metal & it baffles me that this element isn’t more readily referred to. The lengthy periods of repeated motifs while other elements gradually build around it, the huge crescendos, the use of atmospheric ambience, the fact that the music utilises the signature tools that of metal but has you questioning whether it’s metal at all… all of that is in line with the classic post-metal model & if you replaced Jun-His’ vocals with some sludge/hardcore ones I think you’d find that the public perception would change dramatically, particularly as there are various riffs utilised across the album that sound pretty similar in style to the leading players from the atmospheric sludge metal movement. The psychedelic component is worth mentioning but I don’t actually feel like it’s too strong for the post-metal tag to cover & the same can be said for the electronic element which beautifully colours the music in various different ways but never comes across as sounding overly quirky or forced.
Back to those vocals, one thing that I find truly amazing is that Jun-His can get away with growling & screaming like a demon over this music which doesn’t often hint at black metal’s darkness. The instrumentation has an ethereal beauty about it that I would generally have thought would have been in conflict with your more blasphemic of vocalists (think Deathspell Omega) but here they seem to work perfectly & I put that down to Oranssi Pazuzu having complete clarity of what they’re trying to achieve & total confidence in their abilities to make it stick. I’ve rarely heard a more imposing front man & he really does make this album a lot more appealing than it may have been with your standard black metal fodder. The way the instrumentation builds gradually in subtle ways underneath his unrestrained brutality is a talent that the band milk for all it’s worth with each track obtaining the required crescendo in different but equally abrasive & intense ways. It’s kinda their thing. Sure there are a few jerky transitions included here & there where it sounds like the band have attempted to paste two disparate sections together but those individual sections are simply so compelling that it’s very hard to argue a case against them residing in the same piece. The three tracks that make up the A-side are nothing short of audio perfection & you’ll rarely find a more gripping & transcendent side of metal. The quality does taper of just a touch at the start of the B-side with “Oikeamielisten Sali” being the clear low point of the album but even then it’s a very high quality piece of work & this only leads into further glories over the last couple of tracks with the final climax of long & repetitive closer “Taivaan portti” representing the most violent yet euphoric end to an incrediblly creative album.
“Mestarin kynsi” brings together a large quantity of influences that should have no place together in theory but in practice come across as pure genius. The jangly noise rock guitars, the Massive Attack style filtered electronic bass lines, the krautrock experimentation…. there's even a question around whether a lot of this stuff is even metal but it all works wonderfully well & has left me feeling somewhat embarrassed that I’m only just coming to this release now when it is so clearly something that I should have invested the time in earlier. Oranssi Pazuzu are an absolute breath of fresh air in a scene that’s so chock full of pretenders who are simply trying to emulate their idols. They’re not only ground-breaking but have also presented their unusual sound with such fluency that they still achieve a greater level of accessibility than most extreme metal outfits & this is the key behind their surprising success. I can’t stress enough what a magical experience “Mestarin kynsi” is for a music tragic like myself & I’m genuinely grateful that I’ve discovered it. Better late than never as they say. And yes, this is my album of the year. No one will catch it at this late stage & I’m not sure I’d want them to anyway. It’s a fitting & deserved champion in my opinion.
For fans of A Forest Of Stars, Hail Spirit Noir & Sólstafir.
Oranssi Pazuzu have always been a group that has dabbled with psychedelia in their sound, but with the release of this new album, Mestarin kynsi, the band seems to have taken the full plunge into the world of psychedelic tendencies in their music that will be alienating to most.
Oranssi Pazuzu have essentially put themselves in a very selective category of black metal that consists of a band such as Schammasch; music that is still clearly black metal, but has been malformed and turned into something very different than that genre tag entails. These songs are broken up by extended minimalist and drone passages which are complimentary of the quasi-black metal sound. I do enjoy how some of these passages are built and naturally grow over time. The heavier sections are crunchy and super dissonant, helped by Jun-His’ howls that harken back to a young Ishahn during the days of Emperor.
Unfortunately, with an album such as this, the production does seem to get in the way of the compositions themselves a few times. When you have an album trying to be this alien and dissonant, it is no wonder that volume does suffer, and some of the guitars are arbitrarily increased in the mix, rather than being given organic, dynamic swell from the performers, rather than the mixing board. In addition, those going into this album expecting a relentless black metal experience… you are not going to find it here. The fundamental core of the black metal sound is practically non-existent until the final track. The rest of the album, as I mentioned earlier, has all of the elements of black metal, but is distorted in a way that makes it almost unrecognizable.
As a result of this, I think that the people who will find Mestarin kynsi the most alienating are fans of Oranssi Pazuzu, or black metal fans in general. As someone who was unfamiliar with this group prior to this, I can say that in terms of dissonance and uncomfortability, I’ve heard far more gripping stuff, even within this niche subgenre. But I still cannot deny its quality.
Oranssi Pazuzu follow up the amazing Värähtelijä with this, their latest album and it is indeed a worthy succcessor to that classic. Their stint with the Waste of Space Orchestra project seems to have resulted in ever more diverse influences becoming entwined in their sound, moving them even further away from their black metal origins. In fact, I hear very little black metal on here other than in the vocals. What I do hear is electronica and space rock in hefty doses and the metal that is present owes more to industrial than black metal. The band I keep hearing throughout more than any other though is Hawkwind, particularly of the eighties vintage. The first part of the album's longest track, Uusi Teknokratia, is so reminiscent of Choose Your Masques it's untrue and the driving, wall of sound of the quicker songs married with the electronic elements has Dave Brock's stamp all over it.
Atmospherically, the album is very "cyberpunk dystopia", the soundtrack to a not-so-distant nightmare future envisioned by the likes of William Gibson. Most of the tracks start ominously and build towards an energetic and chaotic climax, conjuring images of marauding androids and flaming attack ships.
This all results in a particularly progressive sounding metal album, in the classic sense, not in the lazy, "desperately-trying-to-sound-like-Dream Theater" sense that many so-called progressive metal bands settle for. The album's several diverse elements are all brought together into a whole that visionaries of yesteryear like Robert Fripp and Peter Hammill would be proud of had they come from a later era of music and been more metal-inclined. Oranssi Pazuzu are cut from a similar cloth and are one of the select few bands in the metal scene who can be considered leaders and not followers.
For now I've got this marked down slightly from Värähtelijä, but this is a great record too and that divergence may yet close as this gets more listens (as it certainly will!)