Blood of the Black Owl - _Blood of the Black Owl_
(Bindrune, 2007)
by: T. DePalma (8.5 out of 10)
Excluding the mythologies of Lovecraft and Tolkien, whose creations have been well exploited but not completely exhausted in every province of the metal kingdom, foreign appellations have become far less endearing and mysterious than they might have been a few years back. At least that's my view from here in the States, where naming one's group in the old Norse, German or Slavic language too often leads to misapplication, pretension and posturing regardless of family roots, translating into one fat stamp of: ¡Generic!

A suspiciously babel fished name usually betrays poor songwriting plus identity crisis. Unlike the South Americans or even the Engrish speaking Japanese, most wannabe polyglots unanimously pussy-out on singing a full song in bastard-tongue, and where's the "schadenfreude" in that?

Blood of the Black Owl first began under the awkward name Svart Ugle, but despite appearances released a promising three-track CD-R in 2005 before founder Chet Scott, a current resident of Seattle, bearded and deadly, also founder of Glass Throat Recordings as well as the long-running earth-ambient act Ruhr Hunter and, it may as well be said, a man of honor, set right this contrivance with a name befitting its central theme, now spelled out more directly. Or is it? The whole premise of the music, Scott says, was based on a dream he had of a burnt owl seeking shelter in the branches of dead wood. Expressing a like-vision in shades of folk, ambient and metal, _Black Owl_'s seven tracks are romantic reveries of heathen blood on heathen soil, perfectly sprung from the Northwest United States.

To that end, the album's energy is at once fearsome, propelled by mammoth baritone guitar riffs, punctuated by Tom Warrior-esque grunts or steadied by decaying refrains of stale, sickly import -– a gimping, fevered wandering that moves closer to the very dreams said to inspire it -- but also vicarious.

Sounds of thunder bleed into sustain while a perpetually humming organ pipes clouds of tension to substitute and blend with the outskirts at night; a noisome darkness filled with a lingering and unbroken presence so that you'd rather not know what exactly is humming and falling from out there in the trees. But Scott transgresses fog with horn and bough in hand. Dark woods and isolation feed emotions set free by low-end dirge, tubular bells, young-ox horn, ocarina and lonely drum, pursued by coyote howls and Scott's own incomprehensible mutterings. Song titles like "Drinking the Blood of a Lion" and "Like a Coffin Chasing a Womb, His Chariot Becomes a Southern Bloodstorm" as well as runic portraits of bone and earth seen on the cover (notice too the way the "bird" figure morphs into Mjolnir or Thor's Hammer) further amplify the talismanic arc interred on record.

Often broken into three to four movements per song (on average stretching seven minutes each) each track alternates between sloughed guitar chugging and mild ambient trances. There is no distinction of "primitivism" between the two, only amplification. And although the music has already been compared to drone, black and stoner metal, it lacks the typical rock-flavored riffing, monotonous non-structure and bleak atmosphere of each to justify that simple categorization or comparison. True enough, _Blood of the Black Owl_ is a long and strange album and sounds as if helmed by one man alone, but if anyone can be paired side by side here with Scott in acoustics, it's Justin Broadrick, not Malefic. "Drinking the Blood of a Lion", perhaps the most memorable song on the disc, creates foaming channels of guitar distortion through simple chord progressions, alternating leads under starry melodies and sounding similar to the first two Jesu albums, but without pandering to that audience; it seeks its own path and in its own way. Nor are the ambient or "shamanic" tie-ins indicative of any of one group or region by sound alone. These airy meditations recall an archaic and general romanticism of Native Indian and Buddhist rites as much as they do the icy North.

Are they "culturally accurate" demonstrations? Perhaps not, but I don't think they're meant to be. It is a dream acted out in a heavy wanderlust of emotion and a great step toward something fresh and defining.


(article published 16/3/2007)

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