Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Ever-innovative, Ornassi Pazuzu have been unleashing their own brand of twisted darkness on the world since 2007 and are typically placed in the unlikely pigeonhole of Psychedelic Black Metal. The band has been on hold since 2016’s critically acclaimed Värähtelijä, as they worked on various side projects, most prominently the Psych-Sludge Waste of Space Orchestra, a stunning collaboration with fellow Finns Dark Buddha Rising. Mestarin Kynsi (Master’s Claw) is their primary release on big-time label Nuclear Blast and, though somewhat less abstract than their previous offering, is equally nightmarish. Retaining the throbbing, impetuous groove that lurks at the core of their sound, as well as eastern chord progressions, they have upped the synth twiddles to create a more ‘alien and detached’ sound, according to bassist Ontto.
Although the band waxes lyrical about the influence of 70’s German Kosmiche (Consequence of Sound, 29/04/2020), for me this album owes as much to the 1990s. There are similarities not only to 90s Industrial Metal but also soundtracks of the decade’s dystopian cinema: the distorted funk of Jamiroquai’s ‘Deeper Underground’(Godzilla, 1998) and the impetuous organ-paranoia of Propellerhead’s ‘Spybreak’ (The Matrix, 1999). Indeed, this is an album that, in many ways, pays homage to the film score, reflected in progressive, elongated song structures which emerge as psychedelic horrorscapes. According to vocalist Jun His they are ‘spells or curses’ to control the listener’s mind, which suits the concept outlined in the official album trailer: ‘A dark master is rising…An illusionist who uses secret knowledge to control the minds of the masses…A new totalitarian order is established and the heretics are silenced violently…’ Jun His makes reference to Lovecraft when discussing influences, but the horrors feel distinctively urban. There is, however, an over-riding occult presence, with titles such as ‘Ilmestys’ (Revelation) and ‘Taivaan Portti’ (Celestial Gate). Thematically and musically you end up with an unsettling blend of ancient superstition, retro pop culture and contemporary urban horror.
The album opens with Ilmestys (Revelation). Eastern strings jangle over an unsettling throb of bass; vocals are swampy and guttural, laced with menace. When the synths blare in they feel intrusive but serve to exacerbate the jarring clash of ancient and modern. When you least expect it, the track drops a riff that could crush the balls of an elephant.
Tyhjyyden Sakramentti (The Sacrament of Emptiness) starts out gothic and spacey – stark guitars chime, bass pulses on a motif that seems to last forever. But just as things begin to get monotonous, unruly drums leap headlong into a chaotic jazz explosion as frantic leads scramble beneath a haze of flanger. The tension builds until it snaps, releasing a stunning middle section of taunting synths.
Official single Uusi Teknokratia (New Technocracy) opens with Mission Impossible-style woodwind, which pirouettes above manic industrial guitars before things take a turn for the avant-garde. Clock-like percussion ticks and tocks as a humming chorus of vocal samples cascade. It all comes together in a furious crescendo of crushing riffs and squealing leads. The video is a disturbing portrait of techno-urban totalitarianism with reference to the pale-faced anguish of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the gloomy claustrophobia of film noir and, though perhaps not quite the strongest track, it is arguably the most accessible and the one which carries the concept.
Oikeamielisten Sali (Hall of the Righteous) is by far the most psychedelic offering. Lilting guitars jostle with commanding strings, which begin to warp and bend above throbbing timpani. It gives way to a gorgeous plain of eastern cinematic atmosphere, conjuring deserts and hashish-soaked bazaars, before guitars and vocals smash the illusion and a chorus emerges, of sorts, led by searing accordion. Spacey synths warp and groove for a Floyd-esque middle. The strangest, strongest track on the album.
Kuulen Aäniä Maan Alta (I hear Aann Underground) delves deeper, possibly too deep, into the realm of techno-electronics, opening with jabber of synth twiddles and hi-hats. Programmed drums clash with erratic precision in what is the most mechanical, industrial section of the record. At times it feels like it’s trying too hard to be interesting, but things pick up as shades of nightmarish jazz creep at the edges and, my god, out flutters a bluesy, gothic organ section that oozes class.
Closing track Taivaan Portii (Celestial Gate) is the heaviest offering, with frantic (and much-welcome) blasts, straining guitars and disturbing synths. The brutality sustains to such a point where it ceases to be brutal and becomes hypnotic, even soothing. A peculiar end to a peculiar journey.
This is a sophisticated offering by a band at the top of their game. At times tumbling and chaotic, its seemingly dissonant parts somehow hold together, but only just. Aside from the opening of ‘Kuulen Aäniä Maan Alta’, where things get a bit ‘Kid A,’ it is crafted and considered rather than experimental and indulgent. Part film score, part urban folk tale, part psychedelic journey, these techno-urban sound sculptures are always intriguing and capture a sense of dystopian paranoia which is more-than-relevant at the current time.
Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi (Full Album – Official Audio)