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Mysticum – Planet Satan (2014)

Mysticum - Planet Satan artwork

When we last left Mysticum, they were preparing the release of Planet Satan. In the interrim, I managed to convince myself that this album didn’t come out until 2016, and that therefore it was a reasonable but overlooked choice for my DMU tenure. Instead, it’s been available since 2014, so I’m definitely behind the times here. You can therefore consider this review something of an attempt to fix a hole in my backlog.

Planet Satan is basically what Mysticum’s previous album should’ve been – better produced and mixed. I say this with full awareness of black metal musicians’ affinity for lo-fi recordings. Sometimes, that’s a desirable trait. In Mysticum’s case, though, the “industrial” aesthetic is better served by a cleaner sound. It isn’t entirely pristine, to be fair – Planet Satan‘s production channels much of its predecessor’s trebly hiss, but on equivalent stereo equipment the end result is more balanced and louder. The vocals are the major benefactor here – the screams and thickly accented ranting here are prominent enough in the mix to drive songs, but everything else has been boosted, making for an overall better sounding recording.

To be fair, there isn’t much on this album that would sound out of place on In The Streams of Inferno if it’d been recorded on the same equipment as that effort. I want to say that the songwriting here is more coherent, but this is a very minor change at best. The songs actually feel more compact despite the album’s greater length, although I’m not sure if that’s just a result of them grabbing my attention more effectively. One thing that is for certain is that there are fewer abrupt asides, and that when new instrumentation is introduced, it’s integrated into the actual songwriting more effectively. These aren’t especially complicated songs, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the overall rhythmic simplicity makes for a strange, inexplicable effect at times (is this, perhaps, the psychedelia that people have been claiming Mysticum channels for the last few years?). On the other hand, I consider it a good thing that a so-called industrial black metal album strikes a balance between a mechanical aesthetic and the other moods I typically associate with black metal – blasphemy, hellfire, derangement, etc. That last bit is probably Mysticum’s true strength, and one that not many bands have been able to capture on their own terms.

In short, Planet Satan pretty much obsoletes everything else Mysticum has created, by virtue of being essentially the same but shinier. Some bands lose crucial elements of their sound when they try to refine it, but not this band.

Highlights: “LSD”, “Far”, “Fist of Satan”

Mysticum – In The Streams of Inferno (1995)

folderI’ve had a vague urge to discuss this album for a while now, but what really pushed me over the edge is the impending release of a followup – Planet Satan. I know this band has been a pretty big influence on Aborym (who I mention because they were one of my big gateways into metal) to the point of even having devouring this band’s vocalist for an album. Furthermore, you can sense a hint of Mysticum’s influence in their work after listening to this… but first, you need to parse how much sparser and uglier this album aims to be.

Place a few tracks from here into your “ultra-minimalist low-fi black metal” playlist if you wish, because In The Streams of Inferno fits that aesthetic perfectly. It’s worth noting that even drum machines aren’t unheard of in this section of the genre, but the one on display here reaches velocities and densities more reminiscent of extreme techno/industrial music. The musicians here have no qualms about playing patterns that would be difficult for a human to imitate (if not impossible; I’ve heard live drumming that was further over the top), although the rest of the instruments are performed in a standard fashion.

Like a lot of the more minimalistic black metal bands, Mysticum is particularly successful at establishing atmosphere. The first thing a prospective listener will notice is how thin and hollow the production on this album is, with guitar so piercing it’s hard to hear the notes. Besides being generally trebley, this album showcases seemingly whispered vocals – I believe that if they were emphasized in the mix (instead, we got the opposite), they’d probably sound incredibly feral and nasty… but because they’re so buried, they’re not. Still, the interplay of drum machine and guitar are enough to keep most of the songs here interesting. Amusingly enough, the most memorable moments on this album come from “Crypt of Fear”, the longest and most elaborate track. When a band’s best songs are their long ones, it’s a sign they need to let more ideas hang out, although “Crypt of Fear” also has a lengthy (but repetitive) synthesizer prelude…

I don’t know what the sequel to this album is going to be like, but I noticed that the folks at Peaceville Records like to label Mysticum’s music as “psychedelic”. If they’re referring to the debut, then I’m afraid the only psychedelics getting pushed around are in their offices. In The Streams of Inferno puts a compelling, vaguely electronic twist on what would otherwise be standard “norsecore” type black metal. It’s not a particularly sophisticated mix, but there would be plenty of musicians in the future willing to complicate things.

Highlights: “The Rest”, “Wintermass”, “Crypt of Fear”