While Norway tends to be best associated with black metal, there have been a number of bands over the years that have taken some of that genre’s aesthetics and fused it with punk, hardcore, and noise rock. One of the latest groups to do so is Bergen based Vestindien, likely a new name for many outside of Scandinavia. Originally formed in 2009 with a more hardcore punk oriented sound, Vestindien released an EP titled We are the lords of hellfire, and we bring you...Fire somewhere around late 2011/early 2012 and then promptly broke up, only to return nearly nine years later. Their debut full length Null takes that earlier aggressive sound and dials it back significantly in favor of much more subdued and atmospheric melodies with bursts of aggression. While there’s still room for them to grow further and fully capitalize on this fusion of sounds, Null still manages to form a niche of its own and is likely to grab listeners looking for something a little different in the world of metal and punk.
Anything tagged punk or black metal usually gives listeners the expectation that they’re going to be greeted with a flurry of abrasive tonality and rawer vocals, but Vestindien turns that on its head with opener “Mot dag”. You’re instead greeted with ominous and spacey sounding synthesizers, crackling, and acoustic guitar that builds slowly until it reaches a much louder climax. It’s clear from this that Null is going to be far from your average album in either genre, as this song falls somewhere between darker post rock, experimental 80s post punk, and weirder folk. “Beerenberg” then completely flips the script with a driving tempo and guitar work that’s equal parts heavy metal and punk, with a little black metal roughness to top it off. When Vestindien goes all out punk and synth heavy, they remind me a bit of fellow Norwegians Okkultokrati and Haust though the material on this album seems to linger in its softer and spaced out moments even more. Despite reminding me of those two bands the way everything is fused together makes Null sound unique, with elements coming in at almost at random. Sometimes you get old-school punk and rock ‘n roll with some genuinely weird synths that have a slight post punk edge, while other times the songs have an almost shoegaze type atmosphere that hovers over the recordings. Closing track “Øst for Sol” even goes almost full-on black metal for much of its run-time, making this an album that always offers something unexpected. Admittedly even though it’s over in half an hour some of the instrumental sections still feel a bit filler-ish and a little too stretched out, so some further tightening in the songwriting department wouldn’t hurt, but I can’t deny that I’ve wanted to return to this beautifully weird slab of heavy music regularly.
The vocals are just as over the top as the instrumentals, as “Beerenberg” opens with a falsetto scream that seems to be paying tribute to the likes of King Diamond and other classic heavy metal singers. From that point on you’ve got a mix of some sudden falsetto shrieks and much rougher edged singing/screaming that brings a raw, sleazy edge to the material. The sudden outbursts of higher vocal ranges on some of the songs reminds me a bit of Deathhammer but run through a punk filter. It’s a combination of rough-edged pitches that may turn some people off but seems tailor made for me, and Vestindien does balance it out with some occasional cleaner tones. Equal parts Black Flag and The Stooges in its performance as it is second-wave black metal, the vocals provide a roller coaster ride of emotions throughout Null.
There’s something genuinely appealing about the huge range of musical styles Vestindien is pulling in on their debut, and while it doesn’t always hit the mark for me there’s still enough to keep me coming back for another descent into madness. With everything from old-school punk and heavy metal to black metal and space rock thrown into the mix, I really can’t say that this band sounds too close to anyone else (except maybe their fellow Norwegians Haust), and while I think they still have potential to take this experimentation further this is a strong base they can build off of. Check it out if you want something that sounds psyched out and sleazy in equal capacity. Null is available from Dark Essence Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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