Laster’s transformation over the past seven years has been truly exciting to experience, as each full length has deviated further and further from their black metal roots and gone in unexpected directions. Early on the trio showcased a knack for lengthier, sprawling arrangements that took a considerable amount of influence from second-wave and early atmospheric black metal. With Ons vrije fatum the group pushed further away from that, incorporating a significant amount of post punk and experimental styles resulting in an album that was as danceable as it was chaotic. Two years later Laster has fine tuned their madness even further with Het wassen oog, which makes the writing even more freeform and avant-garde. It may prove to be a bit too out there for some of the black metal devout, but those with listening tastes that span everything from 80s post punk to Virus should find that there’s a lot to like about this one.
Despite how many different stylistic elements are encompassed throughout the course of Het wassen oog, Laster hasn’t abandoned black metal entirely. While it’s no longer making up the foundation of many of the songs, there are still plenty of sections where the instrumentals will suddenly whip things up into that familiar blasting or icier tonality out of thin air. The transitions are even more fluid and freeform than before but are handled with such ease that nothing ever feels jarring or out of place, which is impressive considering how often Laster shifts gears. The post punk and shoegaze elements are what stand out the most this time around and I can hear a good deal of Killing Joke influence throughout the album, with the darker melodies and driving rhythm section capturing some of the best elements of that band. But the sudden bursts of black metal’s chaos and insanity and the overall fluidity of the writing is also reminiscent of Ved Buens Ende and Fleurety with a little bit of Bethlehem’s somber melodies added into the mix for good measure. It’s a lot to take in all at once and you’re likely to need a few times through to get a feel for all the transitions and riffs that make up each individual song, but there’s enough hook from the get-go to encourage you to dive beneath the surface.
While the strength of the instrumentals would be enough on their own to make Het wassen oog stand out, the vocals offer just as much variation and unpredictability. The higher shrieks that were one of the most prominent elements on Laster’s earlier material are still here in full effect and are capable of sending chills down your spine with each verse, but the performance is split fairly equally between the harsh and melodic side of the spectrum. What I like about the singing is that it has this off-balance feel, as though the vocalist is caught up in the flow and rhythm of the instrumentals and is just another element of the madness. Both the screaming and singing has a noticeably alien feel that prove to be intimidating one moment and entrancing the next, and Laster continues to twist it further with each of their releases.
Het wassen oog draws from a lot of familiar styles but twists them into something unique, pushing black metal towards alien landscapes and dimly lit jazz clubs in equal capacity. Ons vrije fatum was the first glimpse of Laster heading towards post-punk melancholy and airier atmosphere, but Het wassen oog has taken that base and gone even further out there towards the avant-garde. It may be a little weird and sometimes seems on the brink of utter insanity, yet there’s also a good deal of beauty to be had throughout and that’s not something that can be said often of this genre. I continue to come back to this one again and again and it’s likely to stand as one of the most interesting and diverse albums of this year, as well as one of its best. Het wassen oogis out now from Prophecy Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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