Label: Negra Nit Distro
Date: December 26th, 2022
Was I right or was I right? The last time I dealt with Ouija, I called their stuff mediocre, but also pointed at their capacity for more than that. And here they are, just a year and a half later, with a full length album that proves my words correct.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing has changed in the musical segment of this band. They are still representatives of old black metal, sprouted from the north of Europe. Ouija hasn’t even attempted to reinvent the wheel. Not even make it their own by applying the southern heritage of their own country or others leaning on the Mediterranean. They can still be considered a true second wave black metal force.
However, and here’s the catch, they’ve upgraded!
Now, how can you upgrade while still maintaining the original self.
Easy, you add different elements to the existing basis.
Oh, hell no, you cannot have add-ons and still be true to the origins of black metal.
Of course you can. Because you are not a juvenile one-chord, bedroom enthusiast, but an artistic soul looking (if not stepping) across the horizon. Trying out means to better express yourself. We are complicated organisms with emotions much harder to explain than with simple goat worshipping. There’s much more to hatred or death than can be portrayed in infantile scribbling of pentagrams and taking photos at the old cemetery.
So, okay, let me try and explain why “Fathomless Hysteros” is such a big hit for me. If by reading the statements above you got the impression that Ouija is an overly progressive band, you’re wrong. The Spaniards are honoring all the basic ingredients of the genre. Swedish aggression, Norwegian coldness and Finnish atmosphere. What’s more, they are complementing each other in the overall sound, so that you get quite a coherent image in the end. Even more so, the band’s creative effort, in all respects, hold all the pieces together so that there’s no danger of falling into a hypnosis of endless repetitions of not all that convincing pieces.
Naturally, the most responsible for varying the pieces when the necessity calls for multiple repetitions is the drummer. Most people have a tendency to overlook the importance of creative drumming, especially in black metal. Even the drummers who dive into the genre tend to believe it’s all about the speed of their blast beats. Listen to what Fulgur did on “Fathomless Hysteros” and how his “moody” drumming adds details to a colorful use of strings.
As for the strings, I must note that Shogoth on bass guitar could’ve had a bigger impact on the wall of sound that is “Fathomless Hysteros”. When the four strings come through, it’s mostly into the dimmed spotlight. Then again, the prime task of the instrument is fulfilled and there’s more than enough depth to this record.
When it comes to the six-stringed beasts, there’s no hiding or cowering behind other instruments. Nor is it necessary. You cannot call their performance technical, but I would definitely use the word “imaginative”. Creative, if you will. Obviously, the duo behind the guitars has more than enough talent to create moving riffs and passages you cannot say were heard million times before. Not even if you admit that they stem from the same roots of the genre. Melodic chord progressions or purified riff attacks alike, both present solutions that definitely raise eyebrows of black metal fandom.
All of that intertwined with the vocalist whose chords were long ago proven worthy of a black metal microphone. This time though, Midgard displays more variety to his capabilities. For instance, though he did attempt to include clean voice to Ouija, this time he brought it to the next level and those finally sound as they were intended. And not only is Midgard trying out different vocal styles, but his expression and delivery lines up with some additional musical stylistics Ouija is looking at.
Which brings me to the actual add-ons I’ve mentioned way up above. First of all, and I never thought I will utter these words, Ouija is championing the longer tracks. The longer, the better, if you ask me. The finest track on the whole record, in my account, is an almost eight minutes long epic “I See You Without Eyes“. An utter emotional destruction that combines black metal with melodic death / doom metal. Mind shattering to say the least, with its tempo variations, as well as an almost theatrical approach to song development. Easily the best Ouija has come up to date.
Of course, when I speak about these differing influences, you should be at ease. Ouija never really departs their black metal roots. They only enhance it. Furthermore, it’s not just this one track that stands on its own in the midst of otherwise turned ones. The melodic elements of death / doom metal are omnipresent, though the extent to which they are used varies from song to another. The whole point of this tractate is to tell you that Ouija has grown in their compositional abilities. Particularly when they give themselves enough time to build a storyline within a track. With enough creative power, coupled with arrangements alike the mentioned “I See You Without Eyes“, Ouija cannot miss.
On the other hand, they’ve given themselves liberty to explore sounds beyond what’s “allowed” in black metal. Like in “Bestia negra”, which contains chiming of some bells, for best example. It’s almost as if they are warning the villagers of the coming of black beast. Whether those are actual bells or any other instrument, I don’t have the information, but it brings the special ingredient to a track that would otherwise be as traditionally black metal as possible, though swerving between the beastly aggression and grim atmospherics.
Choirs and subtle keys, if my ears are not gravely mistaken, also make an appearance. And the mentioned vocal variations. More than enough detailing for a single album. “Fathomless Hysteros” can therefore be construed a mega success for Ouija in all directions.
Now, even if “I See You Without Eyes“ is an obvious choice for a track that needs attention from everybody in the metal community, the rest of the tracks on “Fathomless Hysteros” are not that successful when it comes to being recognized as groundbreaking or genre-defining. Though, like I wrote, on a creative high and swarming with fine solutions to music making, the record falls just a step short of magnificent. Surely, if you have a friend that really wants to know what black metal is and you have a shot with just one album, you don’t have to dig for “Transilvanian Hunger” or “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” if you have “Fathomless Hysteros” sitting by. It is a good enough album to overshadow most of black metal scene, leaving them far behind in the blizzard of their feet. But it is not really an album that will brush shoulders with the giants.
Basically, I’m calling this album excellent, but not quite a future black metal classic.
Music itself aside, “Fathomless Hysteros” has two more things working in its favor. An absolute beauty of its cover artwork being the first. One can but admire this maelstrom of birth and death, as portrayed by Mr. Juanjo Castellano. Though hardly an unknown figure in the world of metal cover art, I believe the man outdid himself on this occasion. I can only imagine how proud Ouija must be looking at this image.
The second factor is the spot-on production work by another well-known figure of Spanish and worldwide underground, Mr. Javi Félez who brought “Fathomless Hysteros” to the sonic heights the band has long deserved.
But there’s also one more issue I have with the album. Though it’s not so much an issue as it is a question for the band. Why did you feel the need to re-record two old tracks for this album? I mean, it’s okay, they do not fall out of place even if one is twenty and the other ten years old. They’ve been subtly adapted to fit to “Fathomless Hysteros”, but they are not new tracks. A slight remark you wouldn’t even have if you didn’t know those were old songs in new clothing. But that’s where I come in to burst your bubble.
Anyway, concluding once again, “Fathomless Hysteros” is a record absolutely worthy of your time and money. Even if not the best black metal has ever offered. Ouija hit the nail on the head this time and with some force!