Don't believe the hype. For all the psychedelic and progressive tendencies present on Hallucinogen, Blut Aus Nord's 13th album, it remains firmly rooted in their brand of avant-black metal. This set synthesizes previous eras in the band's history in forging a new path through extreme music. Their trademark industrial tenets -- present since 2001's The Work Which Transforms God -- have been considerably de-emphasized. The press material states this phase of development was concluded on 2017's brutal Deus Salutis Meae, but it isn't altogether absent. Strains and tropes from the 777 trilogy -- particularly 2012's Cosmosophy and the three Memoria Vetusta albums -- are threaded throughout these compositions.
Hallucinogen is a different kind of cosmic trip, however. It's evident from the cover art, which features a strange tree of mushrooms that hosts fungal creatures with many eyes set in the foreground against a nocturnal, sidereal view of an unending galaxy. Set-opener "Nomos Nebuleam" reveals how central black metal remains to BAN's core aesthetic: It roars into being without an intro, all tremolo picking, palm-muted chugging, blastbeats, and scudding keyboards. That said, instead of the icy Nordic overtones, the foreboding minor-key unraveling is framed in warm atmospherics ballasted by strange sub-melodies, reverb, and clean, synthesized, monastic choir vocals that are almost literally buried in the mix. A short guitar solo touches on the blues as the sonics swirl and paint the foreground while the track reaches an anthemic crescendo. "Nebeleste" is introduced by distorted guitars charging atop the double-timed drums with clean and screamed vocals all but hidden in the backdrop. Its near ambient breakdown leads to one of the most stunning conclusions in the band's catalog. Psychedelia meets melodic black metal in "Anthosmos," a suite-like track where layered guitars and reverb offer the darkness space to unfurl. Kaleidoscopic riffs and panoramic keyboards create glittering dual melodies alongside a monastic choir in the devastatingly sad "Mahagma." "Haallucinählia" counters: It opens at full-tilt with a swaggering, riff-laden brightness. Lyrical lead guitars meet ferocious chugging riffs and blastbeats as layers of psychedelic keyboards and ambient effects frame their attack to lead outward rather than downward into a black hole. It sets up the avant-garde atonal dissonance that introduces "Cosma Procyirism," the spiraling closer that careens across the blackened stratosphere with recombinant strains of virtually every sound, texture, and dynamic employed on the previous tracks, concluding with this consciousness-expanding labyrinthian journey. Hallucinogen is a magnificent articulation of BAN's ever-evolving musicality. Theirs is a distinct 21st century brand of black metal that boasts an immense sonic diversity framing the band's emotional impact and arcane philosophical inquiry, yet it retains the folkloric strangeness and rebellious misanthropy of the genre's origins.