When - The Black Death [Ideologic Organ - 2015]Originally released in 1992 on Tatra Productions, When's The Black Death is a sonic recreation of the plague that swept through Norway in 1349, taking two-thirds of of the country with it. Based on the series of drawings featured in Theodor Kittelsen's Svartedauen, Lars Pedersen takes the listener on a structured, rollicking journey through a dark time in Norway's history.Historic instruments add an air of credibility to the recording, but unfortunately, some instruments and loops push most moments toward the goofy side.
Opening with strange animal noises and medieval sounding instrumentation, The Black Death does its best to draw the listener into the calm time before the plague nearly destroyed Norway's culture. Somewhat sparse but heavy on atmosphere, the beginning of this long track flows well into the calm, distant cello that does its best to haunt and act as harbinger of the germ that will spell doom for the unfortunate inhabitants. The Jew's Harp that follow, though, changes the mood a bit too drastically. Solemn turns to goofy, and it's hard to see the album as anything other than that afterward. Strangely timed loops and silly sheep noises only serve to drag the listener further from the grim nature of the subject matter. Radically shifting elements make up the basis for The Black Death. While this works when there's a particularly distracting piece, in the dark, engaging moments, one can only grin and take it on the chin. Ending on a more cinematic note, When's journey aims high, but the damage has been done.
Albums that stick too closely to a premise often suffer from rigidity issues by clinging tightly to timelines and changes instead of organic shifts in tone. Never really hitting its mark and combining too many random elements, The Black Death overshoots the target and suffers from overindulgence. Is this album highly regarded because of the Norwegian black metal scene that championed it? While I'm not terribly upset that I listened to it, after this week, I won't be revisiting it. Paul Casey