Review: Virus - The Agent that Shapes the Desert (2011)

 Genre: avant-garde, avant-garde metal, jazz, rock
 Label: Duplicate Records, Virulent Music
 Country: Norway
 Listen: MySpace

Virus, the vessel that carries the spirit and former members of Ved Buens Ende. In this incarnation they - the drummer (Esso) and one of the singers/guitarists (Czral, also of DHG, Aura Noir, Cadaver, the list goes on...) of VBE - have shed their black metal sensibilities. At first the band also counted the former bass player of VBE among its members, but he has stepped out last year to be replaced by a fresh face. But, even with all that VBE hanging around Virus, they have managed right from the start to create a very distinct style and sound from that entity.

In fact, this band sounds very distinct from pretty much everything else. There is a certain jazz-like tension in it all, it fiercely commands your attention. It grooves and worms its way into your brain, to swing there for a while and later deliver it's dissonant riffs and crooning vocals. For this record, their third one to date, they manage to invoke the feeling of being a traveller in the arid desert of a sun-blasted land (without being desert rock). The music rages and tears like a desert storm around you, it's dirty, it's vibrant, it stifles your breath and leaves you thirsty for so much more.

This truly is a work of art. Czral is a gifted vocalist, he manages to hit the right tones and moods for every piece. He is like a madman preaching with booming voice in the desert, no longer bordering on the absurd and bizarre but crossing over and revelling in it. The bass and drums are very much the core of the music, they get the desert ship in motion and drag us along to be flayed by the sun's unforgiving heat. Both employ solid groove, nicely rolling rhythms, and also manage to be a strong counterpart to the guitar work and vocals when needed. Ah, yes, the guitars... Ranging from more-or-less straight up riffs, to disharmonic wailing and madness - reminiscent of post-rock and noise-rock but then from the depths of the abyss. Mind you, the guitar sound is very clean, but what it plays... It all works so perfectly well together, no instrument does more or less than needed... While they don't actually need it, Garm (Ulver) lends his exceptional voice to the closing track of the album. First in a demented croon to accompany Czral's rambling, later in a full lead.

You can find almost everything on this album from time to time, besides the rough outline described before. Surfrock influence on Red Desert Sand and Where the Flame Resides, the latter also serving as a subdued Tom Waits-analogy, the almost empty soundscapes in Dead Cities of Syria, psychedelic, jazz, complex rhythms, the list goes on and on...

This music isn't easy, it's not meant to be easily enjoyed by anyone and it's clearly not meant to be comforting. It's not for the background, it's not for just any time; it's meant to be focussed on completely, to find the truths hidden in the sheer strangeness unfolding before your ears. If you can deal with the nastiness that this branch of avant-garde music offers, this record will not let you go.

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