Our motto might be 'Exploring the edges of the musical universe', but let's face it, most of the stuff we review is still within the boundaries of what most openminded people might call 'conventional'. It might touch various extremes, be it extremely calm drone/ambient, extremely beautiful postrock or extremely brutal sludge, but apart from the occasional hard-to-review albums there hasn't been a lot that I was totally baffled by. That is until now, because the highly respectable folks at The Flenser have unleashed the latest Mastery, 'Valis' onto a completely unsuspecting world.. Mastery has unleashed a couple of demos, some splits (with Skullflower and Palace Of Worms) and a brilliant compilation called 'Barbaric Usurpation Of The Hypereonic Black Metal Throne' before but this is his proper first full-length album.
Now, I've been listening to black metal for over two decades now, but I count all the, as teenagers say in street-language, WTF!? moments on one hand. I'm pretty sure Dead Raven Choir is one of them, Xexyz, Cloak Of Displacement as well and perhaps Dodheimsgard's '666 International' when I dig a bit further in my memory. Okay so there might have been a bit more, but you get used to certain things over the years. Mastery have done it though. This has got to be one of the most bizarre black metal albums I have ever heard in my entire life. While on its surface it might appear to be black metal, I'm tempted to bypass this moniker and classify it straight under 'extreme free jazz'.
The instrumentation isn't even that strange, because it is basically guitars and drums and black metal vocals but the way main-and-only-man Ephemeral Domignostika layers all those sounds is so far out of this world it leaves my head spinning. It sounds like a hundred black metal bands playing all at once, with what must be close to a hundred riffs in the opening track 'V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.' alone. It sounds completely free-form and improvised as well, but it is so incredibly technical and well-composed at the same time. It really boggles the mind. The album is basically three looong tracks of hyperspeed black metal with two creepy electronic/kosmische tracks in between each of them.
I'm going to be a little bit elitist now and say that this isn't for the occasional black metal listener. It takes a special kind of ears to truly appreciate this extreme stream-of-consciousness black metal. It is the kind of black metal that you have to sit down an immerse yourself in to appreciate the enormous craftsmanship but when you do it leaves you completely exhausted at the end. I can't really compare to it anything and I can't just tell you, for example, 'if you like early Immortal you have got to check this out' because I honestly haven't heard anything that even remotely resembles Mastery. Which is strange, because it is undeniably black metal, there's no mistaking it. It's just a kind of black metal you have never, ever, ever, heard before and most likely never will. Until the next Mastery album, of course..