Ouija – Fathomless Hysteros


Spanish black metal heroes, Ouija, released their debut record in 1997 and then hibernated for most of the next two decades, producing their sophomore effort in 2013. Now, they return for their third album with the momentum of 2021’s Selenophile Impia EP behind them. Could they be entering a new phase of productivity?

The motivation to jump-start their career is the least of Ouija’s concerns on Fathomless Hysteros. You don’t play their type of ice-cold black metal if you seek a large audience of admirers outside the niche underground. The opening title track wastes no time riding into the apocalypse with atonal guitars and thumping snares powered by clean double-kick drums. You seldom hear a mix like this in black metal, unless it’s an unintentional sabotage operation like last year’s Dark Funeral album. The Swedes left the guitars strangled in the mix, but Ouija pivot their amps towards an atmospheric distortion more pleasing to the ears when you analyse them in greater detail. It makes the sudden switch to sharper rock beats and primitive power chords more enjoyable at 02:55 seconds when you’re ready to write them off as Marduk clones.

Ouija’s most distinctive feature is the way they rely on the murderous drums and malevolent vocal screams to provide the heavy stuff while the guitars manipulate the mood in the background. ‘Bestia negra’ is an example where this leaves you underwhelmed, despite a cameo of Celtic Frost and Bathory towards the end. ‘I See You Without Eyes’ is much more potent, like orange juice with additional vitamin C. It’s the first song to start without drums and allows you to hear the ugly distortion of the down-strumming guitars in their full naked glory. Here, apprehensive arpeggios merge with raw palm-muted scale patterns that float like dead leaves on frozen soil. You want to look up at the moon in the tragic hope that it will manifest as a God. But there is no supreme being in Ouija’s world. Humanity has no reason to be optimistic in such a dark and demoralised age. Maybe this is why they experiment with conventional melody on this song. Are they being merciful? Put on your headphones and listen to the two guitars panned in each ear – the divergence and attention to detail is impressive.

Given their thin output over the years, you’d expect album number three to be the record where the Spaniards present forty minutes of new material. Instead, they give us five original songs and two re-recordings from previous releases. ‘The Fifth Rider’ is the closest they come to an orthodox thrash metal approach, but they dwell too long in the dissonant wash of tuneless chords in the sections when you demand a climax. You might detect a similar vibe to their fellow Spaniards in Jade, especially in the rousing vocal projections that sound like a distant demagogue censored by the torture police. The aim here and in ‘Hijo del caído’ is to work you into a fury where you can unleash your inner self and banish all anxieties that weigh you down. Unfortunately, these compositions fall short of the two re-recordings at the end, both of which reveal a more extravagant side to the band’s black metal past. How can you be confident in your latest album if you rely on a reprisal of old material to dazzle the listener?

Fathomless Hysteros bristles with enough mystery and sophistication to gain your attention, but it struggles to retain it at the mid-way point of the album. There’s something impenetrable about this quintet, but you cannot define it. It leads to repeat listens but denies you the enlightenment you crave.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 18/12/2022

Record Label: Negra Nit Distro

Standout tracks: Fathomless Hysteros; I See You Without Eyes; Adversary

Suggested Further Listening: Dissection – The Somberlain (1993), Naglfar – Téras (2012), Marduk – Panzer Division Marduk (1999)