I have no experience with intoxicant use and art. I have heard many claims that listening to music under the influence of any substance is infinitely better, yet there has never been an opportunity for me. You may find that hard to believe, but truly, never have I been alone, under the influence, and deeply enjoying art. The draw is there, however, and perhaps when I can legally do so, I would be more inclined to pursue this “other side” of music. Personally, I feel if the art was not made under the influence of a substance or meant for listening under those conditions, it was meant to be listened to sober. But, for many albums recorded while the members were inebriated, that is an understandable and somewhat enticing argument for altering your state of mind while you spin a record. I mean, while I do not condone or endorse illicit drug use of any kind, I am almost positive that, while definitely a bad decision, individuals listening to Black Sabbath‘s Master of Reality (after smoking a hefty dose of marijuana), Venereology by Merzbow (after drinking far too much alcohol) or Eminem‘s Encore (under the influence of a plethora of prescription drugs mixed with alcohol) are getting a very different experience than the rest of us.
Oranssi Pazuzu has been the band that, if I were to transcend my consciousness and leave my body entirely, I feel I may gain something more from. While I cannot confirm whether or not the Finnish five-piece was under the influence during any of their recording processes, it sure sounds like it. My initial exposure to this group was via their 2016 effort, Värähtelijä, which was a massive spiraling and intoxicating release that demanded deep listening. Tracks like “Saturaatio” and “Hypnotisoitu viharukous” are freefalling containers of hellish landscapes and psychedelic imagery, and I mean imagery. I have never heard anything that would fit better into a music visualizer than Oranssi Pazuzu.
The fuzzy guitars and kaleidoscopic visions were in full force when I saw the band live last year on their first-ever US tour, which was a bewildering experience full of strobes, rapid light changes, and amazing performances. As one of the best live shows I’ve seen, I had extremely high hopes for their newest release, which came in the form of Mestarin kynsi (The Master’s Claw), which released April 17, 2020 on Nuclear Blast. While I was somewhat concerned this album would not live up to the hype championed by the group’s most recent release, as well as their 2019 collaboration with their psychedelic countrymen Dark Buddha Rising under the name Waste of Space Orchestra, it was hard to say. The band’s discography has been pretty spotless so far, so I really do not know what I could’ve expected to go wrong.
A disclaimer: Every Oranssi Pazuzu album grows on you over time. This is not music you can casually listen to, as the tremendous amount of layers, confusing sounds, and Lewis Carroll-like hallucinations transport you to another world completely. You can’t just shuffle the tracks and expect to understand what’s going on. As extremely pretentious as that may sound, this, like the rest of the band’s work, is a sonic experience that demands your respect. This means full listening, front to back, no distractions, just Mestarin kynsi.
Following these parameters yields the best result, which is one of the best metal albums of the year yet. Initially, this release gave me the satisfaction of a new album from these guys, but nothing more. Upon further listening though, its haunting beauty came into its own and has transported me into a realm of uncomfortable, nervous bliss on tracks like “Tyhjyyden sakramentti” (The Sacrament of Emptiness) and “Kuulen ääniä maan alta” (I Hear Voices Underground). The first has a rather traditional psychedelic rock riff that evolves into the swirling synthy and fuzz-laden madness that the band is known for, and the latter is a more mid-tempo electronic cut that explodes into primal ferocity.
Jun-His’ vocal performance on this record is as phenomenal as ever, with a throat wrenching scream I wish I could imitate. The first track, “Ilmestys” (Revelation), builds exceptionally similar to the opener on Värähtelijä, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The sonic likeness of this song and “Saturaatio” are perhaps questionable, but the lengthier build and disgusting vocal performance make it for me. A mid-growl as vile as you will hear on one of these releases, it sounds like a bubbling cauldron filled with poison sputtering demonic phrasing in a room laced with airborne intoxicants.
The climax of “Oikeamielisten sali,” or The Hall of the Righteous, gives me actual anxiety. I feel my skin shiver as the chugging guitars crescendo and sharp synths whir in and out of the soupy mix. Jun-His’ vocal performance on this track is also phenomenal, unleashing demonic howls that immensely frighten and seemingly don’t fit in the song, but this adds to the suspense and grandeur that the entire song creates. I would even go as far as to say this is my new favorite by the group, inching out “Saturaatio” by a small margin. “Uusi teknokratia” (New Technocracy) is the longest track presented here and has awesome pacing driven by a very breathy flutelike instrument that is probably a digital guitar or synth effect but still feels natural regardless. Arguably one of the more psychedelic tracks on the release, the inclusion of airy female vocals over the carnage is both beautiful and head-spinning.
The final track, “Taivaan portti” (Heaven’s Gate), is extremely visceral, turning the rawness of their sound up. An extremely interesting production technique, it makes the mix feel empty, even when so much is going on. While I would normally be disappointed by this, this cut makes immaculate work of packing enough into the mix that it is full of things to listen to, even when the main guitar feels frail and weak. This was assuredly done on purpose, and I can understand why. This track is almost as uncomfortable as “Oikeamielisten sali,” and really ends this album off with a bang.
I love this group. It’s difficult to be objective with an artist you hold so dearly, but I have tried my best. The blend of psychedelic rock, black metal and other avant-garde sensibilities curated by Oranssi Pazuzu is truly unlike any other. This is undoubtedly their best work, with so many things to talk about. But the greatest improvement from Värähtelijä is hands-down the shortening in runtime. I love long songs, but the 69-minute runtime of that release felt like a little too much craziness for me. By shortening this release by almost 20 minutes, not only is Mestarin kynsi extremely digestible but also lends itself to repeated listens far easier, as the average track hangs closer to eight minutes rather than 10 or 11. The Finns really bring it home on this one, and I can promise I will be constantly blasting this for the remainder of the year.
Final Rating: Maybe I should be learning Finnish instead of Norwegian
Favorite Tracks: “Oikeamielisten sali,” “Uusi teknokratia,” “Taivaan portti”
FFO: Dark Buddha Rising, A Forest of Stars, Hail Spirit Noir
2. “Tyhjyyden sakramentti”
3. “Uusi teknokratia”
4. “Oikeamielisten sali”
5. “Kuulen ääniä maan alta”
6. “Taivaan portti”
You can support the band through their Bandcamp.