Nordvargr: The Secret Barbarous Names
Malignant Records

Though it wouldn't be entirely wrong to label The Secret Barbarous Names, Henrik Nordvargr Björkk's debut solo outing on Malignant under the Nordvargr alias, industrial ambient of a particularly macabre and coal-black kind, it's hardly the whole story. What the Swedish shaman has done on the fifty-minute release is given birth to a vocal-based work that draws for inspiration from the Draconian and Typhonian traditions and as such oozes no small amount of occult-fueled dread.

The cryptic album title wasn't chosen to merely titillate either, as it refers to meanings hidden within manuscripts that have long been kept secret in order to contain the power that could be unleashed if their texts were uttered. It's not so much the meaning of the words that presents the greatest possible danger but rather the vocalizations, especially when pitched at a particular frequency and amplitude, that would bring them to life.

Given such details, it hardly surprises that vocals are the central element on the release, though Björkk amplifies the sense of dread by augmenting the chants with ominous industrial-ambient atmospherics and incidental percussive treatments. In these nine settings, the voice seems to be welling up from the remotest bowels of the earth, the intensity of the effect maximized when the guttural lead, a sound reminiscent of a Tuvan throat singer but with a voice five times deeper, is accompanied by deathly layers of accompanying voices. The invocations are so potent, their presentation so uncompromising and relentless, the atmosphere so noxious, one almost expects to see spirits materializing when the recording's malevolent mantras spread throughout the room.

The instrumental passages are as all-consuming as the vocal ones, too, as illustrated by “Chandrakala,” which almost buries the listener under a torrential wind mass upon its arrival midway through the recording, and “Closing the Gates,” where punishing slams suggest hell's doors are indeed shutting with one trapped inside. It wouldn't be overstating it to say that The Secret Barbarous Names could well be transformative when listened to on a high-end system at maximum volume; at the very least it's safe to say that the experience will haunt you long after it's over, especially when a setting such as “Lunar Kala Soma” is so thoroughly nightmarish.

February 2017