'Written In Waters' - Ved Buens Ende (8/10)
Ved Buens Ende is a legendary band in the Norwegian black metal scene. Although not coming too far after the pioneers of the infamous second wave of Norwegian black metal, they had a sound that was vastly different, going down a much more experimental route, while keeping all of the same eerie atmosphere that makes the genre of black metal so appealing to some. Although this band eventually revived in the form of Virus, Ved Buens Ende only ever released this one full length, 'Written In Waters'. Although the career of this band may have been very short, it is massively influential, and seen as the album that largely laid the groundwork for avant-garde black metal. With that information laid down as a precedent, it is understandable that the music here is quite challenging to get into. However, there is method to this madness, and while I found myself having to revisit it many times to really 'get it', 'Written In Waters' is an exceptional piece of Norwegian metal.
Let it be said that Ved Buens Ende were years ahead of their contemporaries. Their sound is somewhat related to the more recent work of Deathspell Omega, and Blut Aus Nord. The point I should bring up is that those two bands made their mark even a decade after 'Written In Waters' was released. In other words, it was a real pioneer, doing things for black metal that were pretty uncomfortable at the time. Most of the vocals here are cleanly sung in a gloomy baritone, with only a few traditional black metal rasps to go around. The guitars are very percussive and dissonant, often alternating between very abrasive black metal riffs and sombre moments of dark psychedelia. There are plenty of echo and reverb effects to go around here, and gives the whole thing a very otherworldly feel.
The songwriting here is made even more challenging by the somewhat muddy production, which obscures parts of the sound to the point where a listener might even hear things that aren't necessarily there. As far as the writing here goes, Ved Buens Ende are masters of making melodies that can be plenty memorable, without necessarily being pretty or beautiful. Although a track like 'Autumn Leaves' gives the listener a respite from the darkness and frantic feel, these human moments are fairly few and far between. The majority of 'Written In Waters' revolves around strange, percussive textures, and a very bleak atmosphere. The vocals here are particularly distinctive, although they will certainly take some getting used to for some listeners. Czral's delivery is not aggressive, but it is unsettling, perhaps somewhat akin to Maniac's vocals on Mayhem's 'A Grand Declaration Of War', except much fuller in their sound.
The real jewel here are the less traditionally 'black metal' elements of this album. The speedy passages are energetic, but admittedly little more than what I would typically expect from a Norwegian black metal band of this era. However, it's Ved Buens Ende's vanguard experimentalism that makes the album so great, and keeps the music engaging despite its somewhat bumpy production.