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Nortt : Galgenfrist

Nortt's 2007 third full-length can be best summed up by the artist's own words: 'Galgenfrist' can drain the life out of just about anything.

'Ligfærd' was a remarkable departure from 'Gudsforladt'. The latter stuffed so much music into relatively short but extremely intense songs that listening to that record felt like drowning in quicksand as you were totally crushed and overwhelmed by the desperation it reeked of. The former, on the other hand, focused more on the feeling of desolation. The sound followed the cover art in sounding ghostly, lifeless and detached. While you were crushed to death by pitch-black sorrow in 'Gudsforladt', you found yourself stranded among ghosts in 'Ligfærd'. However, there was still some simmering life there, that was able to feel pain and we witnessed some of the most sorrowful, even if utterly desolate, music ever.

I did not think it was possible to take this sound any further. I though it reached the limit of extremity. The sophomore had already taken us from the last shards of life into nothingness. How can anything exist beyond? Maybe Nortt wondered the same thing and his answer to this question is 'Galgenfrist', released in 2007, which can be summed up in one word only - apathy. There is just one problem with this otherwise wonderful concept - apathy is not always the most engaging emotion to be conveyed via musical means. This is evident from the intro which reveals early on the only flaw here - bland ambient. The whole intro is just that, and we get more and more of the same throughout the album.

The first track 'Til gravens vi' is pretty representative of the whole - it starts fantastically and immediately shows how good Nortt is at what he does best - slow, crawling guitar, desperate blackish screams and a keyboard line hovering over that is absolutely remarkable. It is so damn effective in its near stillness and total lack of variation that it leaves you motionless and immersed. It appears out of nothing and back to nothing, it goes. Then, suddenly, this pure bliss is cut short by another ambient interlude. And it just goes on like this. 'Galgenfrist' needs to be listened to from start to finish as the ambient breaks gain a pattern (break every three to five minutes for a minute or two) and become a bit more bearable. A single song would sound way too disjointed on its own.

This is the slowest Nortt album by far; the tempo is so slow that it almost dissolves. The guitars play solemn riffs, piano notes or keyboard lines run in parallel and vocals flow in waves on top to spill apathy and despair all over you. At times, the feeling it creates is so strong that you are left standing in awe. The arrangements are meticulously designed with obvious care about every single detail. Everything is right where it should be, in the correct amount for the desired effect. Nortt explains the structure of 'Galgenfrist' with his desire to deconstruct and test the limits of music, but to me that is just a fancy way of saying he added a ton of boring filler. The ambient is perfect in theory, I could argue that it represents nothingness and serves to remind us of the inevitable void, to make the contrast with the last dying shards of life even brighter. Unfortunately, while in 'Ligfærd' it was despairing but still rich in emotion, here it is simply empty and dulls the built-up sorrow.

The piano is quite prominent but nearly not as catchy as usual, you will not find 'Gravfred'-like melodies here. It sounds much grayer than before which is in line with the rest of the music, like the overall apathy grows on it too. The keyboards ooze such resignation that you cannot help but feel overwhelmed. The long drawn out keyboard layers are literally stunning. They are the quintessence of everything bleak, lifeless, hopeless, solemn and forlorn. They do not seem to be connected to the rest of the music structurally; instead, they just pierce through the wall of apathy, emerge and pass through like tumbleweeds in a desert.

The guitar is not too distorted and the riffs are just a succession of notes disappearing into nothingness, so slowly it hurts. Often it does not even form a melody but remains solitary chords that echo in the void and cease to be. They are not static as in 'Hedengang'; they are just left to die as slowly as they emerge.

The drums are the opposite of the way they were used during his early career; here they are the central force, heavy, solitary, sparse and thundering. They are so pronounced as if to drag the music forward, as if everything is just ready to let go and give up, descend into nothingness, so these strong thuds are there to remind it that the path is still not over. The solitary figure with the noose from the cover should reach the gallows. He is not quite there yet so the music needs to hold on, and not disappear just yet. Every instrument emerges for a short while then depletes. Every song is bleaker, sparser and emptier than before as though even if there was some life to begin with, it is slowly losing it, and we are left with less and less. Sometimes life re-emerges; the guitars form a melody, slow and lonely. Devoid, detached, lifeless. Everything in this album seems to be indifferent about the rest; it is a singular focused creation with a sense of finality. This culminates with the last real song, 'Havet hinsides havet', where most of the time there is so little in terms of music that every instrument sounds lonely. We enter a place where no life is left at all. Beyond life, there cannot even be solitude or desolation. The ghostly sounds reinforce this feeling even further. At the end of the track, we hear angelic voices showing the final ascent of the soul. Afterwards there is nothing but a few piano notes to complete the song and then the outro.

I am quite uncertain as to the rating of this album. The ambient parts drag it down for sure and they can be hardly overlooked but the rest is absolutely unique, unparalleled and stellar. I have yet to hear an album of such astounding resignation, so perfectly conveyed. At least two thirds of the material is genuine masterpiece. Rarely an album can have such a profound effect on you and it will remain in the music history as the single most alienating album ever made. In theory, I need to take more than 1 point from the rating for the ambient, but the rest is such a solid and unshakable 10 that it does not deserve less.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Galgenfrist
2. Til gravens vi
3. Af døde
4. Kaldet
5. Over mit lig
6. Havet hinsides havet
7. Hjemsøgt

Duration : Approx. 47 minutes

Visit the Nortt bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-02-20 by Klamerin Malamov
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