Blut Aus Nord and its mastermind Vindsval are primarily associated with boundary shifting experimentation within the musical realm of black metal. The ultra-prolific unit has been pushing beyond the Satanic and misanthropic trappings of the style since the band's 2003 release The Work Which Transforms God. The Work is one of BAN's most highly regarded albums, and it's the entry point to the band's catalog for a lot of people. But, before BAN started incorporating avant-garde elements and industrial noise into their songs, it started life as a fairly orthodox black metal band. Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry is a return to that early sound.
The first entry in the Memoria Vetusta album cycle, titled Fathers of the Icy Age, was released in 1996 and was BAN's sophomore effort. It followed closely on the heels of their debut, Ultima Thulée, and marked a noticeable improvement in both production and song composition. BAN would release just one more album in the traditional black metal vein, 2001's The Mystical Beast of Rebellion, before beginning its journey into more experimental territory on 2003's The Work Which Transforms God. Fans of BAN's more accessible work would have to wait 8 years for Vindsval to take a break from the increasingly challenging music he was creating to revisit the band's earlier black metal sound on Memoria Vetusta II: Dialogue with the Stars. Luckily, the world only had to wait five years for the third entry in the Memoria Vetusta cycle, and it was well worth it since this is one of the best BAN albums in the band's formidable catalog.
Saturnian Poetry begins in the same way the previous two Memoria Vetusta albums do – with a brief ambient passage that leads directly into a blast of old school, frost-bitten black metal. That's where most of the similarities end, however. The three albums are linked together by a common name, but there aren't any musical themes that tie them together. Each album is very much self-contained, and the connections between the three are largely tangential. The only direct connections in the trilogy are the opening ambient tracks and the inclusion of clean singing that arises sporadically throughout each album. The similarities present arise in opposition to BAN's other work – if these three albums were the band's only releases, no one would consider them to be part of a coherent whole. But, since they exist within a larger body of work that's heavily informed by industrial music and the avant-garde, the Memoria Vetusta albums exist together as a trilogy of melodic black metal compositions.
Vindsval and company haven't sacrificed quality for accessibility, though. Saturnian Poetry is a great album. Initially, it may seem a little too vanilla for fans who are accustomed to the cosmic madness of the 777 trilogy or MoRT's arrhythmic cacophony, but Saturnian Poetry's warmer, almost pastoral, sound will likely grow on you quickly. Although this album is the most listener-friendly release of BAN's long career, it still retains enough compositional complexity to hold the listener's attention. The album's second track, "Paien," provides a basic blueprint for what's to come: Vindsval establishes a solid, repetitive guitar rhythm as a foundation that the band then builds a song on. Croaked and clean vocals play off of each other while soaring keyboard melodies lift listeners above the maelstrom created by the guitar and bass parts. The addition of a living drummer as opposed to a drum machine adds an additional human element to the music, also. BAN's past reliance on programmed drums worked because their music relied on a sense of emotional distance to create a cold, inhuman atmosphere. But Saturnian Poetry is the most organic sounding album the band has ever recorded, and the mechanized precision of a drum machine would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
For a band known mainly for its latter-day experimentation, it's refreshing to hear that BAN are still capable of getting back to their roots. You'd be hard pressed to find another band capable of following up something as alien sounding as the 777 trilogy with an album as profoundly emotional as Saturnian Poetry. The raw creativity this band possesses is astounding, and it explains why BAN has been able to stay relevant for nearly 20 years while so many of their peers have descended into the realm of self-parody or creative stagnation.
Saturnian Poetry is available now on CD, vinyl, or digital download through Debemur Morti Productions.