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Nefaria Review

by Thom Jurek

Praise be to Southern Lord for issuing this new title in the ever labyrinthine (and hard as hell to get a hold of) catalog of Sin Nanna, and his alter ego, the one-man Transylvanian black metal band Striborg. Sin Nanna is among the strangest, most misanthropic characters in the history of black metal. Rather than scream obscenities or death chants to the Christian God, Striborg howls from the forest to the forest. These are songs of desolation and rage that are expressed outward, but seem to be directed not so much at the listener as toward some nightmarish catharsis. Yet the vocals are so processed and buried in his ultra lo-fi mix -- like another instrument -- that one has to read the lyrics to figure out what's happening. We now look into the forest, we see trees and what have you. When Sin Nanna walks in his forest home, he sees something else, something vile: "a portal to another dimension of ultimate wickedness/Land beyond blackness, soil bleeding dark hatred/Devoid of Organic life, into a void of specters/Insurmountable negative energy pulsating across the horizon" Yeah. And later on, the "black scythed reaper waits with glee..." At least someone's having a good time here. Guitars sound like saws, and a cheap drum machine at three-quarter speed with that processed yowl of reverb-drenched noise is almost too much. But it's arresting, and seductive in its way, especially when Striborg goes for those ambient sounds as he does on "Permafrost Forest," an instrumental track where his synth tries to sound like a church organ and almost pulls it off. After the screaming rage of the opener, and the striking ambience of "Permafrost Forest," we get big power riffs done lo-fi style. When you hear the drums, they cut through with such an echo that when the cymbals crash they sound like thudding lead. The other trademark element on Nefaria -- as it has been on every single Striborg release as well -- is the hiss. There's this ambient noise to hold onto when you are being taken into the void, whether it's in a true rocker like "Somnambulistic Nightmares," or thrashing blastbeat-speed workouts like "Garmonbozia," where he sounds like the Donald Duck of his earlier records.

But this is not music to be laughed at or considered comical. It's serious and it's a world of its own. Striborg doesn't give a wit about what anyone thinks as his Burzum-like synth and drum machine piece "Lament" attests. It's haunting, beautiful, and above all, raw. The last two cuts are over nine minutes each. They are extreme in ways that cannot be conveyed in words. The whipsaw buzz of those guitars, the slithering, crunching chords in the background, and keyboards of all stripes weave in and out as he goes with ambient passages woven into the shambolic collapse and resurrection of drums, which is utterly fantastic. Vocals come out of wind tunnels in the deep winter forest -- or seem to -- as if the gods themselves had driven this man to insanity and the bleakness of the void. Perhaps it's just a cool way to make records, but it feels so much more out of step than anything else out there. As was his practice on his last album, Embittered Darkness, he has included a bonus here: his 1995 demo A Tragic Journey Towards the Light. While deeply under the spell of bands like Mayhem, Burzum and Emperor, Striborg's individuality is still there, pulsing, exerting itself in the blinding speed and eternal hiss. Sin Nanna sings without a sense of time, or perhaps it's his own time. But it doesn't coincide with anything that's happening musically. Even at this stage, the elemental need to create emotional backdrops that aren't purely aggressive are present: check the acoustic guitar-drenched-in-reverb-instrumentals "Drowned in Black Beauty," or the title cut; they're gorgeous, if brief. Nefaria is as essential as Embittered Darkness; it's not easy to be a rugged individualist in the black metal arena, but Striborg is nearly his own genre.

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