On Frozen Horizons: TURIA - Degen van Licht Review

The Dutch trio scale the summit of their third full-length, with plenty of twists.

Photograph by TURIA

Not unlike the celestial bodies of our galaxy, musical acts within close proximity have a tendency to gravitate towards one another, circling in a dance of death that brings them both to the threshold of catastrophe and beauty. Today, that thing of beauty is the coalescence of the Dutch black metal group TURIA, the vessel of ambient chaos brought to the world by the industrious members IMPERIAL CULT, GALG, NUSQUAMA, and LUBBERT DAS.


The name of this vicious encounter with desolation is Degen van Licht, and it's precisely the kind of noisy, tactically layered tome that compounds the best efforts of multiple groups into a folded steel that cuts deep. With all of the cleanliness and pacing of groups thrice their age, TURIA shows that persistence and stamina are the keys to a healthy black metal catalogue.


I inserts itself with all the glamour and abrupt nature of a live show. The tri-tone, a subtle note played in repetition beneath a carpet of humming and squealing gives way to a crisp drum-fill, and the carriage that takes you away in Merode.


The thinnest thread of tremolo dances in the background, placing instead the echoing incoherence of a reverb-saturated vocal to take center stage. It's an effective tool if listeners are to envision a land of frost and mountainous terrain. Upper register screams are the crown upon a head of bi-woven melodies, one sewn in bass-lines, the other syncopated in rhythm guitars atop a steady kick and splash. Just after the four minute mark, it all falls away, save for the steadfast picking that idles like an ambient track off a TOOL album, or some classic prog. It's an element that is so unexpected, so out-of-place in a genre that is known for fury and noise, that hearing an isolated sound as a divider for two passages almost feels alien when heard the first time. It's a welcome addition.


Met Sterven Beboet takes a bold step with a melodic introduction that calls back to some of the classic atmo-black albums of the late 2000's, and early 2010's. Picking along to the sounds of nature, crickets chirp endlessly with the tune, their own kingdom being represented in a primal, insect-channeled homage. This swiftly is cast to the winds as a fast-paced set of riffs climb upwards, step for step, in a repetitive motion that takes one medley one measure at a time, only to erupt in a crash, bringing it back louder and stronger. The next clearing is a staggered, swaying version of the same, but with the intermittent triplets that stand out from the rest of the composition and make themselves heard multiple times throughout. It's a ‘ratatat’ of frets that gradually increase to breakneck speeds by the end of the song. To say it's impressive is to downplay where this song starts versus where it finishes. Closed out by the looming thumps of the snare ticking its way to the finish, it's stripped away at once with almost clinical efficiency.


The midway point on this album is the title-track, and they slow it down here to cram so much more in each measure. Straining vocals, complex melodies, splash-laden passages that sound like a storm; unending and brutal, this is the lifeblood of what the TURIA crew do best. The continual nature of their sound allows for just enough difference that you can feel every member's varying parts. Out of time, out of rhythm, they're never quite playing the same strokes, but it's just close enough that it all fits in place. When one shifts pace, the others trade and compete for a glimpse of the center-stage. This momentary spotlight brings out the elements you were looking for. As this review is being written, there are parts emerging that have forced this reviewer to go back and actively search for their beginnings more then 5 minutes back. With so much to listen for, Degen van Licht is a slow-burning fuse that crawls towards its precipice with the same caution and intrigue that a professional climber would.


Storm is brought on by a mechanical whirring and thrum, introduced by the same unintrusive lead guitar that establishes itself as a both pace-setter and page-turner. The rhythm and drums live and die by this cascade of picks, and up and down the audience is taken into a blizzard of vocals that are harried by the same grief that sings this entire release. A pleasant surprise comes forth near the five minute marker, as several choral voices can be heard lamenting in harmony as the song slowly fades into its screeching death.


The second ambient transition, known simply as II, captures the essence of beginnings and endings from this group. Soft, twinkling plucks and picks mingle with a keyboard tone that plays much like any piece that Hans Zimmer himself could have written. It's minimalist, soothing, and takes great efforts to stray as far from the genre aesthetic as possible. This reviewer would make the claim that an entire album of ambient keyboard and guitar would not go unappreciated if TURIA felt compelled to step outside their comfort zone.


Closing out their third full length is a hoppy track called Ossifrage, an on-rails pedal-ride that puts a riff on the back of each kick and lets it play into oblivion. By the time the vocals step in at three minutes, listeners are well-acquainted with a track that is doomed to pull the rug out from under them. At five minutes, a hollow scream sends the song careening into a melodious, depressive, tinnitus-inducing passage that squeals into nothing, and picks up as if it never happened a minute later. New rhythm, new melody, a renewed drum pace, and the spotlight shifts once more. With the bass taking form as the firmament for everything else, an unsettling chaotic passage that resets at the eight minute mark, drowning in a sea of noise that lays down to the vocals at nine minutes in. Then, in a blur, all noise becomes one, all sound turns to the wind, howling and screeching as listeners reach the top of the mountain, with only their thoughts and memory of the album intact. It's a wholly enveloping sensation that shows TURIA's flair for the dramatic. Keyboard humming in the depths, an angelic sound rises from below and as this album slowly fades to black, it leaves hope on the wind. The battle is over, the climb is done, you've reached the top and can take it all in.


Degen van Licht is not a traditional atmospheric-black metal album. Somewhere between the psychedelic elements that have made their way in, in the past decade, to the electronic aspects that are clearly not a distraction, but an equal part of the equation, TURIA is a group that understands all too well that the genre needs experimental growth to thrive, and with so many musical projects between them all, thriving is something they excel at.


FFO: NUSQUAMA, GALG, ISKANDR, LUBBERT DAS, IMPERIAL CULT


Degen van Licht is out February 14th via EISENWALD and you can get your copy HERE.

Cover artwork, and design by TURIA

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