July 14, 2006

Noxagt self-titled

On their first two albums, Turning It Down Since 2001 and The Iron Point, Norwegian instrumental metal band Noxagt tweaked the power-trio format by replacing the electric guitar with an amplified viola. The substitution didn't sound that significant on the surface: violist Nils Erga used his instrument as both melodic device and sound effects generator, and ran it through just as much distortion as any guitarist would've. Even if he didn't, the rhythm section supplied the music with more than enough bluster to provoke listeners to headbang themselves into whiplash. Founding member Kjetil D. Brandsdal's harsh, swooping bass playing sounded like he was thumbing loose cable wires, and drummer Jan Christian Lauritzen played both blast beats and leaden plods with equal ferocity. After those two albums, Erga was replaced by baritone guitarist Anders Hana. Noxagt's new self-titled album, while not a drastic departure from their previous work, definitely bears the earmarks of such a change.

Because the viola has a higher, narrower range than the guitar, it was easier on previous albums to tell the difference between what Erga was playing and what Brandsdal was playing, despite the distortion caked on top of both instruments. The music often sounded like each musician was playing a different songs that just happened to be in the same meter, if not the same key. On the other hand, Hana's baritone guitar is tuned even lower than a regular guitar. Because of this, his playing often blurs with Brandsdal's into a morass of low end. On certain moments of the new album (particularly the codas of “Wall's End” and the mind-blowing “Satin Vengeance”), I can't even tell if they're playing notes or not --- all I hear is the sound of strings being thrashed in perfect lockstep. Hana takes Noxagt's sound to new levels of brutality. On “Soft Sugar,” his instruments unleashes the same industrial screeches that the Ex-Models were so fond of on Chrome Panthers; on “90 Parallels Ago,” his slide playing sounds as if he's slicing gashes all over his fretboard.

Unlike the band's previous work, which often sounded through-composed, the songs on Noxagt are content to repeat a single idea, with just enough variation thrown in to keep listeners on their toes. There are key changes, tempo changes, tricky stops and starts, and experiments in syncopation, but no song ever strays too far from the core of its central riff. The only exception is the closing 12-minute epic “The Impious One,” in which three minutes of impressionistic feedback manipulation serve as a bridge between two different, yet equally titanic, riffs.

Although many critics, myself included, used Erga's viola as a selling point to persuade jaded readers into checking Noxagt out, it is clear that Hana's presence has made the band both heavier and better. The only quibble I have with it is its album cover, on which a nameless (and, frankly, assless) model wears white panties emblazoned with the band's name. An album with as much sonic bottom as this one shouldn't have a woman with no bottom to speak of on the cover. May I recommend one of the Apple Bottoms models for Noxagt's next album?

Artist Website: www.noxagt.com
Label Website: www.loadrecords.com

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