I wrote the below review on Dean Blunt's Black Metal for The Quietus, but due to a mix-up it couldn't be run. I thought it should get out there anyway. So, enjoy.
Dean Blunt’s Black Metal follows in the manipulated lo-fi footsteps of The Redeemer - that is, it’s a dedicated construct designed to obfuscate. Yet this journey is higher, longer, and somehow both more lucid and opaque. Opener ‘Lush’ sounds like a melancholic Dev Hynes song played through a Walkman with slowly frying AA batteries. The strings here toy with indie pop treacle, while the weedy production strips away any ebullient satisfaction one might glean from the exchange. This approach lends Black Metal that sun-warped cassette aesthetic, which then bleeds into the other conscious decision to load the tracklist into two overt types, The first half focuses on lysergic dream folk meanderings, all languid and hypnagogic in a VHS-tape-lost-in-the-back-of-the-closet way. A steel-wool scoured lushness pervades these tracks, permeated with lethargic guitar and a dulled echo, like the melancholic ruminations of flagging and failing relationships from a man who is spiritually punch-drunk, mentally broken and suffers from tinnitus. The despondent ’50 Cent’ uses a simple drum machine beat as the most pristine element, the fulcrum that a percolating guitar line and Blunt’s roughly echoed vocals, interlaid with Joanne Robertson’s ghostly delivery from the depths, hovers around. Each of the first five songs is short, playing like excerpts, compositions where the gist of the idea is achieved so the remainder is faded out. “Molly & Aquafina” is the closest interpretation of a “song” in this context, a discombobulated folk duet between Blunt and Robertson, played from the passenger seat of a car gliding through twilit streets of East London, the weight of primordial dissolution weighing on the shoulders.
The thirteen-minute ‘Forever’ changes everything. From its elongated running time to the gradual bleed of glitch, Robertson’s lyricless vocals soaring prophetically over this bioengineered landscape, and the subtlety of piano and organ relegated to backdrop tempo, ‘Forever’ fuses the lovelorn sojourns before now with the synthetic stuttering of electronica, creating a collage of alienated emotion further augmented by a sinuous saxophone solo. The tracks hereafter are more “familiar” (if such a word works in Blunt’s world) – ‘X’ offers an ambient guitarscape before permutating into a skewed New Wave meditation; ‘Punk’ is a dub-lite mantra (another prescient line is delivered here – “I’m not who I'm meant to be”); ‘Country’ is a metallic scree of relentless sinuous noise; ‘Hush’ brings back Blunt’s monotone rap. ‘Grade’ melds it all together (including sax interlude).
The black, blank cover art speaks volumes. In Black Metal Blunt has crafted some beautiful, heartfelt songs before scrubbing them of publicly-perceived purpose, preferring to blanche everything in indistinctness before submerging the result in macabre left-turns of unease and nightmare-quality ambiguity. The result is a testament of an artist who isn’t deliberately subversive as much as intrinsically so. Blunt imbues universal themes with beguilement and disquiet: the artist taking the essence of Goya and Bosch and melting them onto acetate, letting the remains flow over the cookie-cutter boundaries of well-established and easily-digestible genres. Consider Blunt’s oeuvre as muzak for Purgatory.
Nevertheless, by corralling all of his idiosyncrasies and approaches into one record, the eclecticism and perversity of previous releases are ironed out. Warped cohesion somehow dilutes the broth. The beautiful thing about Blunt though is that no matter how uneven, dichotomous or flat people may find Black Metal, the anticipation for what comes next will always remain high – and nothing can be taken for granted. While out of context, when Blunt croons on the excellent ‘Blow’ “when I run away/ain’t nobody gonna find me”, the truth of such an idea of Blunt rings loud and clear. We never know the “real” Dean Blunt; we will never know him; we will never need to.
Black Metal is out now on Rough Trade.