Black metal, love it or hate it, is nearly unassailable as a primordial and evolutionary force in the metal world. From its bleak conception and incendiary public introduction/popularization to its evolution as a standard bearer in the genre’s long-gestating march toward more experimental manifestations of its established sounds, black metal has been a focal point of representation for what metal was, is, and can be. Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu are one of modern metal’s more unique and diverse manifestations of this penchant toward experimentation, blending psych rock, sludge, jazz, and avant-garde elements with a black metal core that has elevated their music to a plane that few others have been able to reach. Their fifth album, Mestarin Kynsi, shows the band re-entering the insane sonic world they created with as much clarity and confidence as they’ve ever exhibited, culminating in a musical journey that is equal parts beguiling, disorienting, experimental, and utterly satisfying. 

“Journey” is about the most appropriate way that I can describe how Oranssi Pazuzu approaches their songwriting structure. Rather than engage in the constantly blistering assault of their black metal contemporaries, the band’s music often lilts, tilts, ebbs, and flows in a way that feels consistently propulsive and often meandering. Their previous album, 2016’s Värähtelijä, exemplified these traits perhaps more abundantly than in any of their previous work, both to the album’s credit and detriment. This is definitely music that requires listeners to invest their time and attention to uncover many of its intricacies. But traversing such sonic tributaries and listener expectations at exactly their own unique pace has always been one of the band’s hallmarks, and this approach has rarely felt pointless or without direction when viewing the band’s overall body of work. Their fifth full-length takes these long-established songwriting motifs and hones them into their most atmospherically effective and explosive manifestations yet. 

Oranssi Pazuzu’s psychedelic side makes itself known immediately in opener “Ilmestys”, which features a circular arrangement that reaches levels of trance-like euphoria as the track progresses. It’s a fittingly spare centerpiece as well, allowing the band to build a sonic city of beats, electronic atmospherics, synths, and vocal retching that feels in parts both utterly beautiful and physically painful to listen to. But this seemingly ceaseless circle of instrumental tension-building, in typical Oranssi Pazuzu fashion, has a thoroughly explosive and satisfying conclusion. As is often the case, Oranssi Pazuzu build with purpose, allowing the more free-form elements of their sound to culminate in Amenra-style explosions of musical and emotional power that almost always hit their intended mark. Take “Tyhjyyden sakramentti” and “Uusi teknokratia” as further examples of this style of songwriting. Both utilize their first few moments to warble strenuously over an atmospheric backdrop of back-and-forth effects and buried riffs before erupting into black metal frenzies that rival even the most intense of their contemporaries. It’s a method that works like a charm throughout, allowing the album to strike a delightful balance between atmosphere building and emotional payoff. 

To be fair, this style of songwriting’s mileage will vary depending on the listener, but those who enjoy their black metal journeys on the more unpredictable and expansive side will find an absolute treasure trove of wonders throughout Mestarin Kynsi, all pulled together by some expert musicianship. Ikon and Jun-His’ guitar work is spectacular throughout, with the latter also conjuring some of his absolute best vocal work yet. Though the star of the show may be the versatile percussive performance of drummer Korjak, who uses his ample abilities to create sometimes off-kilter yet always essential rhythm patterns that give the swirling melodic textures of the record constant direction and purpose. His performance serves as the walls to the madhouse that is Mestarin Kynsi, keeping the proceedings from descending into pure psychedelic madness. It’s an amalgamation of talent and vision that results in some consistently, incredibly compelling music. 

In the grand scheme of their discography, Mestarin Kynsi feels like a culmination of a decade-long journey toward psychedelic black metal utopia. The textures across this album are vibrant, varied, and never short of interesting, while the songwriting and performances are top-notch throughout. With their fifth full-length outing, Oranssi Pazuzu display once again and with resounding confidence and clarity just how potent and relevant black metal can be when it removes its strictest stylistic constraints. It’s their best and most compelling record yet, and one of the most thoroughly enjoyable and entrancing black metal experiences of the year thus far. 

Mestarin Kynsi is out now via Nuclear Blast, and is available for purchase on Bandcamp.

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