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Oranssi Pazuzu – ‘Varahtelija’

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Through its use of odd-time signatures and long periods of improvised jamming, psychedelic music in the 1960s challenged the notion that art should follow the same conventional expectations of society, and that rock music could be as free-form as our unbridled consciousness. On their fourth album, Oranssi Panzuzu embody this psychedelic spirit, but rather than rebelling against the standards of mainstream culture, it challenges the predictability of modern black metal.

Musically, the Finnish group has more in common with Can, Comets on Fire, and Goblin than their metal compatriots, and Värähtelijä conjures non-metal material more often than not. The opening vibes in “Lahja” call to mind the famous jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and by the end it ventures into Bad Seeds (as in Nick Cave and the) territory. The album’s longest track, “Vasemman Käden Hierarkia,” boasts a Zombi breakdown halfway through before transitioning into a Goblin-inspired horror soundtrack, and album closer, “Valveavaruus,” meditates on beautiful spaghetti western chords atop droning speed picking that, after time, begins to emulate a jet engine in the distance. The album then ends on creepy electronic carnival ride, somewhere between Depeche Mode and Terry Riley.

Those references cross many genres, but Oranssi Panzuzu do focus and get plenty heavy. Within the first few minutes of opener “Saturaatio,” the band locks in a dark groove that could inspire a mosh-Trance Dance, and “Havuluu” boasts one of the few traditional black metal moments halfway through its duration. “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous,” the album’s shortest track, manifests a bad trip while getting waterboarded with its vertiginous guitar and bass lines and horror movie synth. This track in particular serves as the album’s best introduction for the skeptical, as it centers on a handful of digestible riffs that establish a concise theme and lets the audience know they’re capable of compositional restraint. It’s misleading to call it pop, but it captures their intensity in half the time without sounding rushed.

Metal often prides itself on the exactness of its performance, but Oranssi Panzuzu eschew these confines in favor of the linear movement of their music. Four of Värähtelijä’s seven tracks hover at or exceed the ten-minute mark, and you get the feeling that most of the songs are never played the same way twice. It’s a vulnerable way for a band to exist, and requires the confidence of great musicians, but succeeding at it has allowed Oranssi Panzuzu to build a unique twist on the genre in which few others participate.

In ecology, niche differentiation “refers to the process by which competing species use the environment differently in a way that helps them to coexist.” At the heart of experimentation lies a desire for coexistence, and without expanding boundaries creative scenes will run stagnant. Värähtelijä will not likely convert many purists, but it is a necessary statement in black metal. It braces enough of the familiar with the unforeseen, surpasses the boring in favor of something new, and ultimately helps carve more breathing room for progress.

—Aaron Maltz

Värähtelijä is out on 2/26 via 20 Buck Spin. Follow Oranssi Pazuzu on Facebook or on Twitter at @Oranssi_Pazuzu.

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