If the laws of the physical universe as we currently understand them (and well, Alien’s oft-quoted tagline) are right — that in space no one can hear you scream — then how do you account for the existence of the kosmische-metal mutilations of Oranssi Pazuzu? Since their 2007 inception, the Finnish quintet has existed as a bitter riposte to the vacuum-like qualities of the outer atmosphere. Each subsequent release functions as another life-affirming burst of contorted interstellar overdrive. Their compositions are disembodied voices in the darkness, exploding more like Hawkwind’s proggy nebulas than the actual nebulousness of the shrieking noise that they’re usually lumped in alongside.
To date they’ve built three solid records on an inversion of that genre that’s just as ascendant as the other post-metal composers who’ve made transcendence their stated goal. But with their fourth album Värähtelijä they’ve finally made a record that fully follows through on the paradoxical promise of their component parts. Like Liturgy’s stunning 2015 collection of mutations The Ark Work,But unlike Liturgy and a crop of similarly minded acts who strive to sift gold and grandeur out of Scandinavian grit, they don’t let the horror and anxiety (the blood in the veins of all great black metal) get swallowed up in the foggy void. Guitarist/vocalist Jun-His bellows a series of croaks on opener the record’s title track far bleaker than anything he’s issued elsewhere in the band’s catalog, a characteristic which serves to highlight the instrumental supernovas and stardust. Over the course of the track’s eight minutes, the band careens around with the tenuousness of a crippled spaceship floating in the darkness; there’s danger, but also quietude and bliss.
But elsewhere, like on the opener “Saturaatio,” they’re the sound of cyborg bulls unleashed in galactic China shops. Each herky, jarring turn is still demonstrative of Oranssi Pazuzu’s weight and force even as they skip from one scorched genre to another. There’s thrashy, trashy malevolence and rubber-band drum explorations and delayed guitar solos that sound like what Wall-era David Gilmour might unleash over the same instrumental were he not so comfortably numb. Moments like these could feel overstuffed, but each time they threaten to sag under the weight of their ponderous run times or weighty influences, a scream from Jun-His, or a jumper cable bassline (like the one that underpins the single “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous”) from the four-string menas known only as Ontto, re-volatilizes it. They slow down, freak out, and because of their willingness to explore realms unknown, their expressions of hate and anxiety feel more all-encompassing and true to life.
It may seem paradoxical to put a genre so concerned with combustion into an environment without any oxygen to stoke the fire. But the Finnish act’s particular blackening of the synth explorations and the cosmic instrumentals that come with the ’70s prog they borrow from provides a breath and life to even that rarefied air. There were always more similarities between space rock and metal than their surface level fascinations suggested anyway. There’s inky blackness to be found out there in the universe, and endless possibility to be found in nihilistic isolation; Oranssi Pazuzu are discovering new worlds by searching both inward and outward at the same time.