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Nortt : Graven (Demo Re-release)

The culmination of Nortt's demo era, first released in 1999, is a masterful album on a par with later releases.

Nortt started his career with three demos released in three consecutive years, all recorded in October. While the first two remain unpolished and overlooked, the third one 'Graven' shines just as bright as his later albums. What we notice upon first listen is the astonishing progression from the previous two releases. Just one year had passed since 'Døden...' in which Nortt was able to get rid of all shortcomings and improve on all the strengths in his music. This is the point where we could rightfully claim that he found his sound.

'Graven' was initially self-released on cassette just like the previous ones. However, it was noticed by labels some time afterwards and received numerous re-releases. The first one is a picture disk of dubious quality, featuring only half the material and its only worthy feature is that it ranks as the very first official release by Nortt. Several CD releases followed soon and a proper vinyl one, by Cryptia Productions, which is the one this review is based on.

The production is superb for a demo and the whole sound is extremely balanced. The keyboard lines are perfect; the guitar has just the right amount of harshness and coldness. This is the first release for which Nortt managed to use a genuine piano, but unfortunately, he was yet to fully realize its potential. The focus is more on the keys at the expense of the piano notes which is a downside keeping it from the highest score. Nevertheless listening to this dreary demo, you do not miss them at all, as the sound is thoroughly gripping and suffocating on its own.

'Graven' is a logical continuation of the previous outputs and just like them, it is very guitar based. Vocals, guitars and keys flow in perfect harmony. The guitars are very prominent while the drums are buried in the background. Even though it cannot compete with the utter perfection of the first two full-lengths this is one of my favorite Nortt releases because we get the best of both worlds here - the very guitar based sound of his early years, finally perfected, enclosed in lengthy songs. On later releases, he will either compress everything to short, ultra intense tracks or create long songs interspersed with ambient breaks. This is the last of the entirely riff-based albums with the benefit of being richer as the parallel keyboard melodies and the somber piano notes are properly developed, making it morbid and melancholic at the same time.

The biggest improvement is in the vocals. Almost gone are the whispers and the blackish screams become the main vocal style from here onwards. They are much more intense that the whispers and we get constant waves of them reinforcing the depression that reeks from every track. Also featured are background tortured moans enhancing the desperation.

The main structure of the album consists of a background guitar that is cold, sharp and abrasive. It is ultra-distorted to the point of being almost still, providing a pitch-black aura. Beside it, a second guitar plays drawn out melodies that reach UDOM levels of bleakness at times. These melodies are as usual simple but effective and carry the album effortlessly. Piano and keys are played in parallel and build a feeling of utter sorrow while the outlining sharp background maintains the constant desperation. It is a formula that would be executed with finesse in future while here it is raw and direct.

The guitars and the keyboards/piano duo take turns in carrying the main melody, sometimes it is the solemn riffs while at other moments the raspy guitar that provides a background wall of harshness during the amazing lines played by the keys. It is repetitive and absorbing but since the tempo is slow and passive it does not come up as hypnotic as before but rather as drifting. The atmosphere is fantastic and does not let go, it is just pure non-stop doom in your face, grim, cold and misanthropic.

'Graven' begins and ends with the mandatory intro and outro and both play an almost identical melody that floats from one to the other and succeed in building a nice thematic frame to the album, which is a very nice touch. They also resemble the intro of 'Døden...', which provides a nice sense of continuation between them that I like a lot. 'Gravfred' and 'De dødes kor' were later re-recorded on 'Gudsforladt', the later versions differing from the more solemn and grayish style that they have here. The former track is also almost twice as long in this early interpretation, which allows it to be more absorbing - unlike the crushing and intense rendition on the full-length. Listening to them side by side with their re-recorded versions shows why 'Gudsforladt' is a masterpiece, but playing the demo on its own is absolutely engulfing.

While every song is a highlight, the melody in 'Sidste vers' is truly unparalleled. The atmosphere reminds us of a vast, desolate, dark and dreary landscape. We see death and darkness from the perspective of the dying or as Nortt himself puts it - "my narrators are in the process of dying or they are already dead". As usual, the songs are repetitive and monotonous, without much variation between tracks and should be listened as a whole in order to drown in the misanthropic, nihilistic and despondent essence of Nortt.

This completes the demo phase of Nortt, with three releases each bearing a unique shade of their creator. They culminate in 'Graven', which is a spectacular album, mandatory for anyone seeking to be absorbed in a slow and solemn procession. Here you will find the pinnacle of early Nortt - long, guitar based songs with ton of additional lines that saturate the atmosphere without having the close-to-deconstructed sound found on later releases.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. Graven (Intro)
2. Gravfred
3. Sørgesalmen
4. Sidste vers
5. De dødes kor
6. Graven (Outro)

Duration : Approx. 42 minutes

Visit the Nortt bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-02-20 by Klamerin Malamov
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