The continual evolution of third-wave black metal has brought forth some of the most invigorating and intriguing new music from around the globe. Proving that his homeland is not just good for Eurovision entries, Violet Cold (aka Emin Guliyev) is adding Azerbaijan to the countries that can now be described as having a ‘nascent black metal scene’. In his latest album Anomie, this one-man experimental artist has delivered a masterpiece, with expansive atmospherics and gorgeous melodic passages underpinned by ferocious black metal.
The first and most striking thing about this album is how beautiful the melodies are. The closing few minutes of the titular track, which opens the album, are a heart-rending mix of flute melody mixed seamlessly with scorching guitars, furious blast-beats and harsh vocals. Leading into this is a fantastic acoustic section, in which listeners are treated to a wistful string-and-flute section over tribal drumming. ‘She Spoke Of Her Devastation’ opens with a dreamy, post-rock flavoured intro which wouldn’t sound out of place on a God Is An Astronaut record. This is what earns Guliyev’s music the ‘experimental’ tag: he’s not afraid to mix genres together to see what works. While this approach can lead to the seriously weird music of acts like Igorrr [review here], Guliyev’s work is more in tune with the avant-garde aspects of the ‘blackgaze’ genre made popular by Alcest. It’s not too much of a stretch to compare Anomie to Les Voyages de l’Âme, for example. However, where Alcest has eased off the punishing harsher side of blackgaze on their more recent records, Guliyev is happy to keep its fearsome harshness mostly at the forefront, serving both as highlighter of and contrast to the melodies.
That said, it could be argued that the songs outstay their welcome. The rather repetitive closing section of ‘Lovegaze’ could have been shortened, for example, without sacrificing an awful lot. However, this is a very, very minor quibble when Guliyev’s music is so intriguing. The black metal is fiercely harsh – listeners could be forgiven for thinking that the harsh sections of the opening track had come from the bleak Arctic landscape rather than the lush steppes of Azerbaijan. By contrast, the ambient sections such as the opening of ‘My Journey Into Your Space’, feel lifted from the dreamiest synthpop. This is not unusual for Guliyev. His back catalogue is a veritable smorgasbord of such music. The gorgeous piano intro to the previous album Desperate Dreams leads into ‘La Petite Mort’, a synth-led track which turns on a dime into blackened shoegaze straight out of Alcest’s deep cuts. Other works, such as the single ‘Jamais Vu’, are pure ambience – it’s a gloomy piano ballad that might be played in a coffee shop on a rainy day. ‘You’ll Die Alone’ is, if morbidly titled, an unadulterated synthwave track.
If Anomie represents anything, it’s a summation of what has come before: mixing ambient-synth with wistful folk and black metal and making something extraordinary out of it. All his current styles can be experienced here, and none of them detract from each other. Each song is carefully constructed from different layers of completely different music – ‘Violet Girl’ is a prime example of this, opening with gloomy dreampop, leading into and mixed with explosive black metal, closing with ambient piano. All of this adds together to create an expansive, atmospheric soundscape, and one exceptionally interesting listen.
Ultimately, Anomie is a wonderful, beautiful album, not an easy description to apply to music that is predominantly black metal. With Violet Cold, Guliyev has created a worthy successor to Alcest’s ‘blackgaze’ crown, and Anomie is a fine addition to what is already an extensive back catalogue.