Morgenrøde by ViviankristRelease date: February 8, 2019
Label: Cold Spring Records
Although about as high profile and successful as any black metal/doom/crust hybrid is likely to be, Japan’s Gallhammer remain strangely underrated. A band worth being obsessive about, they perhaps suffer from a surfeit of those identifiers that made their appeal so instant without even listening to their music: Japanese/female/punk/black metal/doom/crust – none of those things are incorrect, but the unique, individual sound, vision and atmosphere of the band is not just a sum of those parts. Which brings us, eventually, to Viviankrist, which is Gallhammer’s singer/multi-instrumentalist Vivian Slaughter; still of course Japanese (but now based in Norway; the album’s title translates as Dawn, literally meaning ‘morning red’), still female, but not punk/black metal/doom/crust – not in fact easily identifiable at all. Sometimes the music she makes is harsh noise, sometimes it is pure electronica, more often it’s in the borderlands between those genres, but it’s always, like Gallhammer, utterly individual.
After the final, most overlooked Gallhammer album, The End in 2011, it seemed like Vivian, by then relocated to Europe with her husband Sven-Erik Kristensen (better known as Maniac of Mayhem notoriety), had to all appearances “settled down”, starting a family and more or less giving up music for a while. But in fact, what textural/sonic blueprints for Viviankrist there are in her early work are found not in Gallhammer but in the album Wüste (2010) that she made with Maniac in the dark ambient/noise project Sehnsucht. Viviankrist is a different, more intimate and mostly more minimalistic blend of noise and electronica, but there are echoes of Sehnsucht in the mutated synths and impenetrable atmospheres that have defined her releases to date, and which are found here in their most effective form to date.
Perhaps surprisingly, the most obvious feature of Morgenrøde is its human quality. Where some harsh noise (Merzbow is always the classic example) can actually be soothing in its dissociative abstract-ness, there’s a very powerful emotional core to Viviankrist’s music (and non-music) that mostly has the opposite effect. Sometimes, like the opening ‘Silent Soul’, it’s a tempestuous, intense and dangerous quality. This five minute piece, with its blasts of static, hospital-like bleeps, indistinct voices and perhaps-voices and mounting sense of catastrophe, has strange overtones of panic and paranoia which feel absolutely recognisable as the same spirit responsible for Gallhammer classics like ‘Endless Nauseous Days’, ‘Lost My Self’ or ‘At the Onset Of The Age Of Despair’. Whereas the most apparently extreme noise tries, like Vomir, to rid itself of all associations in a paradoxically almost cleansing way, Viviankrist seems to reject both anger and catharsis, putting the listener instead in the centre of a maelstrom that ultimately accepts confusion and feeling; whatever else it is, it’s not impersonal or numb. Even on the pure synth pieces like the hypnotic ‘Spring Storm’ and the upbeat, restless and bleepy (almost Aphex Twin-ish) ‘Higher Minded’ – which feel on a mundane level almost like exercises in getting the most out of a pattern of notes and synth sounds – the impression remains a complex, human one.
It would be easy to say that the sense of isolation and dislocation that hangs over Morgenrøde, even – especially – on more accessible pieces (like the beautiful, stately and melancholy analog synth of the title track) is the response of a Japanese artist to the very different environment and culture of Norway – but while that may be true to some extent, this is precisely the atmosphere that emanates, albeit in a far more aggressive way, from all of Gallhammer’s best work too.
Noise is never going to be for everyone, and if blackened crust (etc, etc) is at best a very niche genre, then with Morgenrøde, Vivian has managed to find one of the few musical idioms which is even further from the mainstream, but she has also made an album which is as beautifully vibrant as it is sometimes opaque, a moving and multifaceted work of brittle highs and murky, volatile depths, and not just another wall noise endurance test.