Every long once in a while, after picking through mediocre album after mediocre album, I arrive at a release which reminds me of why I love underground metal so much. Puritas Virginum's solitary full-length is one of those releases, an album so elegant, depraved, and enthusiastically weird that I can't help but love it to pieces. I'm usually not into extreme metal that's as overtly odd as this- it's pretty clear that the musicians behind Puritas Virginum are very aware of what they're doing- but the sheer compositional ability and wielding of aesthetics is just too strong for me to ignore.
Beginning your album with a sparse, nearly ten minute neoclassical synth track is fairly daring on its own, if only in the sheer severity of its length. Significantly more daring is making the following track nothing but a minimal, drugged out breakbeat backed by some shimmering, sluggish synths and babbling goblin shrieks as vocal accompaniment. The thing that really catapults this beyond anything else is following THAT track with a song that's almost like normal black metal- were it not for the fact that the drums are unashamedly dance-inspired and the riffs are more like a trance synthline converted into tremolo picking than actual black metal riffs. Admittedly, the album does settle into itself a little bit more after this initial volley of experimentation, but those first few tracks provide a pretty daunting face for the band. Obviously you're not going to get much 'normal' black metal from this.
The bulk of Puritas Virginum's music is a very odd, jangly, somewhat punk-inspired variety of black metal, almost painfully French in delivery and sounding a bit like if Absurd was composed of a couple coked-up teenagers who'd never so much as heard of folk music or nationalism. Puritas Virginum's music is perpetually wild and imprecise in its delivery- it feels as though they're just pouring every musical idea they've ever had into a single CD rather than trying to create a more coherent, traditional vision. This is usually the downfall of experimentally-minded metal bands, but here, the band is simply so earnest and genuine in their music that it's an asset. Does songwriting take a back seat to weirdness? Absolutely. Songwriting is barely on the table- I don't know if I can even characterize the tracks on this disc as 'songs', really- they're more like weird, furtive expressions of youthful energy and chaos. There's an impish sort of glee at work here- the band clearly knows how bizarre they're being and revels in every moment of it.
The impishness is probably added to by the totally ludicrous vocal presence that dominates the record. They're black metal vocals- after a fashion so big it's its own clothing line. They shriek, snort, grumble, and yowl, sounding like they come from a little two-foot tall goblin, warbling and screeching his way over a bunch of random songs. Hell, the rest of the music sounds like that too, as though every instrument is played by a little imp who basically knows how to play an instrument but is really more interested in fucking with you than anything. The perplexing thing is that the little imps in this band land on memorable, engaging songs with an uncomfortable regularity, and never in the fashion that's expected. What of 'Le Dernier Empire', which sounds more substantially influenced by Jethro Tull than anything in extreme metal, despite the distortion and shrieks that cover it? And of course Puritas Virginum wouldn't be who they are if the most overt craziness was relegated to the opening few tracks- 'Etrange' is a strange, murky ambient track that merges '70s art rock with a black metal sense of darkness, 'Obsession' is a straight-up dance track for goth girls to wave their hands to, and there's even more examples of the band's wandering, fervently creative spirit dotted throughout the disc.
I'm not sure if this is a full-length album or a compilation- the constantly shifting (but always raw) production makes me think this was cobbled together from a bunch of unreleased tapes. The band never really at any point fully commits to black metal as their genre of choice- honestly, from what I hear, I think the band's collective heart is more firmly located in the '70s than in any modern extreme metal, even if the band is in corpsepaint drag. Puritas Virginum is a lot of things that are usually bad for metal: overtly artsy, intentionally goofy, and oftentimes possessing more reach than grasp, but the work of love this record appears to be (and the sheer memorability of the experience of listening to it) more than makes up for any of these faults. The avant-garde minded would certainly be advised to listen to this one- whatever you think of it, it'll be something that you've never, ever heard before.
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