To many untrained ears, black metal music is already noise enough, crossing the line from comprehension to confusion. Part of this is an unwillingness to accept extreme climates in which art can find a center, and part is simply the natural, visceral shock to such elements being streamlined into the brain with such seemingly inhuman pacing and energy. To those well indoctrinated in the form, sometimes the traditional rock band instruments are not enough, and thus we've seen a wealth of black/noise artists spring up since near the genre's very inception. Pioneers like Sweden's Abruptum or the USA's Havohej have given way to a landscape of solo and paired projects worldwide, and of these, Missouri's Adam Kalmbach has to be one of the more interesting I've encountered as of late. Hit output through Jute Gyte spans a range of styles. Some of the albums pursue a more purely experimental, ambient texture, while others lap at the bloodspring of primal black metal in the vein of Darkthrone and Mayhem and take their aesthetics into an even more grisly territory than the woodlands in which they were born.
Much of Old Ways, Kalmbach's third full-length release through this project, carves a simple but destructive path through a carnal and uncomfortable territory. The raving guitars and rasped vocal lunacy are gowned in veils of hideous distortion, industrial-like drum beats, and strange psychedelic segues into bass and noise samples that make me feel like Attila Csihar, Skinny Puppy and Merzbow are hosting a housewarming party together, with your ears as the appetizer. Like much primitive black metal, repetition is key to the music's hostile, drowning breech of the listener's defenses, but Kalmbach is wise to shift it up as often as he does. There is of course a barrier to entry in place for the unsuspecting listener: the intensely saturated hiss of the distortion will provide much pain until you can latch onto the underpinning rhythms. It's like a musical release via smokescreen, but glimpsing that beauty behind at this or any other angle, through any obstacle is almost sweeter than a clear, sunny day.
Old Ways is comprised of seven acts performed in just over an hour, and I'd recommend you partake of this for the long haul, since the relative consistency of style will easily hypnotize the errant cerebronaut for that period. Several of the songs operate in fairly straightforward, archaic black metal territory with the added advent of the noise functions, like the openers "Waves" and "Teeth", but others take some liberties. "Round" incorporates segments of processed guitar noise, swollen dark ambiance and broken industrial rhythms against periods of necrotic surge, while "Interlude" is all out mystical twanging strings and freaky synth tones that remind me of something Muslimgauze might create. "Peace", one of my favorite pieces on the album, is a slow, damning burn with periodic, cautionary lapses into this fuzzy, doomlike rhythm that almost awakens the listener from the cobwebs of stupefaction to a rapt awareness of his environment. "Snail" provides another interesting guitarscape below tortured vocals, and the extensive finale "Death" is 18 minutes of rampant, plodding hostility, a cryptic black haunt in a gargantuan, rusted junkyard through which electronic roaches skitter and feed upon the last strands of life and human nutrition.
I might also point out how much I truly love this man's lyrics, a conceptual procession that details the struggle of organisms with such an infusion of blunt poetry that they almost exceed the music in ghastly effectiveness. The song titles are all quite minimal here, proof of their existence in a pattern, but some of Kalmbach's prose is truly bewitching:
A pale dwarf-wrath keels over, fatally injured. Mouth gaping, revealing long, curved and yellowing hook-like teeth, it vomits a chunky white substance with the texture of curdled milk. It foresaw this long ago, but now cannot believe. Crimson patches darken a miniature black cloak. Small hands clutch at the brumal air.
No, folks, we are not in Norway anymore. A project like Jute Gyte both compels and disturbs me. The former because I so enjoy the rewards obscured within its oppressive borders, and the latter because I know so few people out there will be able to form the connection to its strange, abstract beauty. Through the Jeshimoth imprint, Kalmbach has offered an attractive if minimal packaging which I found highly appealing. The CD is placed in a DVD shell, with a simple black and white cover and a lyrics sheet tucked into the booklet flap. He does this with a lot of his releases, and though they occupy a little more space than a standard CD, they look very flush together and impressive. I might add that the DVD presentation does more than simply gather dust, it offers you an almost theatrical insight, like a Luis Buñuel picture, a conflagration of sounds and distressful imagery, only here it is delivered through Kalmbach's unhinged control over the chaos and struggle of existence. This is yet another of those works that can change you in increments, as I'm sure it has changed its maker, and worth entertaining if you favor the more experimental extremes of black metal music which in its some of its most incendiary personas reside (Abruptum, De Magia Veterum among numerous others).
Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (a gentle hum: negative space)