It’s been unseasonably warm and bright in Chicago recently. Not every day, of course, but over the past few weeks we’ve had a surprising amount of sunshine for a city that’s accustomed to going a week at a time without the clouds overhead breaking. A handful of days have even been upwards of 40 degrees, an unexpected and pleasant surprise around here. I walk to and from work every day – it’s not far at all, a little under a mile – and it’s hard to state the impact that sunshine has had on my general disposition. Now, I’m sure that’s not a surprise at all: of course nicer weather means better mood, especially if your work days are bookended by time outside. But as someone who trends on the grumpy side, especially in colder weather, I am taken aback by the gradual but perceptible sea change that comes about when the weather gets incrementally warmer and easier to stomach when walking to work. The liminal space between winter and spring, where everything is on the verge of breaking forth on the green march towards the summer, seems to be upon us in the Windy City. (We’ll see if this is actually true; last year it took until May for it to routinely be above 50 degrees here.)
At this same temporal vector, we find Dutch black metal duo Fluisteraars releasing their new LP Bloem, which translates to “Flower.” It is, in many ways, a perfect album for the birth of spring, for this same transient portion of the year; they’ve pitched their camp in this zone of contradictions and dualisms.
On the one hand, calling Fluisteraars anything other than black metal makes little sense: their trade is in blast beats, tremolo picked melodies, and raspy vocals. They err heavily on the more melodic and atmospheric side of the genre; their closest sonic peers are bands like Vanum and Cantique Lepreux. But Fluisteraars are also far brighter, more lush and warm than bands of their ilk tend to be. Discussion of their music tends to focus on this dualism – something that is often said of black metal bands but comes across as uniquely true in their case – and the phraseology is that of coaxing beauty from chaos, of transmogrifying a maelstrom into a singular, resplendent, effulgent whole. Fluisteraars practices a sort of musical alchemy that sees subterranean, worming passages of black metal suddenly erupt into sunlight; it’s in these moments that the music comes to life and disconnected threads suddenly focus into a sublime unity.
That is to say, in so many words, that Fluisteraars are very, very good at doing what they do, and what they do is make very robust and pretty black metal. Multi-instrumentalist Mink Koops’ approach to melody is often utilitarian and pared down, offering nothing beyond the absolute necessities. This clarity of purpose is key to Fluisteraars’ ability to balance the dual nature of their sound, and it serves a vital function when considering the nonstandard instruments that Koops uses to great effect, the most notable of which are the trumpet, trombone, and piano (the fist two of which are played not by Koops but one T. Cochrane, who also helped produce the album).
Take, for instance, the track “Nasleep.” A tremolo-picked guitar playing a simple melody stands alone before the other instruments explode in, horns sitting just below the immediate register to provide an auxiliary layer of motion. Around a minute in, we get a brief change – a breath for air before the sprint begins again. This second melody returns after another minute, and this time it sticks around for good, a boisterous payoff for the race run. But then something strange begins to happen. The horns begin to pick up and swarm, and the vocals start to warp and twist back and forth before coming to a glitched-out crescendo, the guitar and drums soldiering on underneath all the while. And then, boom: without a second wasted, we’re back on the run again, this time with the trombone and trumpet sounding overhead like thunder. It’s all exhilarating, chaotic, and gorgeous, breathtaking beauty housed in cacophony.
But it’s not over yet. This is where Fluisteraars switch gears and explode. Eventually, the run is over, and everything falls away. What remains, Bob Mollema’s baleful cry, leads us into the second half of the song. Chimes, a light touch of piano, and acoustic guitar work together to set up the new melody, a simple string of mostly descending notes. Eventually electric guitar, bass, and drums find their way back in, but the tone of the song is completely changed, and the rest of the song is spent allowing this gorgeous sequence of five notes to run its course.
“Nasleep” represents the dual modes of Fluisteraars operating perfectly in comparison to one another, and functions as perhaps the best singular illustration to date of how their music functions. It’s not always this clear-cut, of course, and many of their songs eschew such a simple division between “the chaotic part” and “the pretty part,” but “Nasleep” shows that the elegance and beauty of Fluisteraars is one born from a natural, organic simplicity. While many atmospheric black metal bands release albums easily twice as long as Bloem, the duo have opted to stick to the bare necessities. Rather than try to create a false sense of fullness or add elements for no reason beyond having more happening, Koops and Mollema are comfortable working economically and pruning everything to a succinct, direct whole. While it’s easy to come away from Bloem wanting more, there is easily more to be gained from being willing to cut away that which isn’t absolutely necessary than there is letting every idea run its course.
Across Bloem we find the duo facing an encroaching storm and bringing something beautiful to nurture from it. This is the magic of Fluisteraars: in their aesthetic space, the chaos and the beauty, the ugly and the immaculate, the overwhelming and the sublime, all melt away into a simple understanding of the world that rises beyond such contradictions. Bloem is best described, perhaps, as a life-affirming piece of black metal. It is at times warm and nurturing, or desperately thrashing about, or simply distant and placid, but it always resolves into one whole – a whole that is resplendent, powerful, and resonant. This is a piece of art to be absorbed time and again, an incredible testament to the natural world that should enrapture anyone with even a passing interest in what black metal can do. Play Bloem loud and often, let its warmth and grace suffuse you, and see the clouds open to reveal a bright, clear, sunny sky.
Bloem is available now via Eisenwald.