This week in “Black Metal From Unexpected Places”, we are going to be reviewing Nansarunai, a one-man act from Indonesia which grabbed my attention with their raw and atmospheric, yet emotive album Ultimul Rege, roughly translated as “Ultimate King”.
I am always excited when I find black metal from countries/cities that do not fit the typical paradigm of ‘old-school Scandinavian black metal’, but still manages to pass when it comes to rawness. This album fits the bill perfectly. And while being lo-fi, gritty, and abrasive, it also manages to feel stalwart and inspiring.
The album is short, clocking in at just over thirty-five minutes, a minute of that being consecrated sounding organs and another minute of horrific soundscapes. I find the organs an odd choice since the music relates to a specific time and place in history that I would not have associated with the instrument. The band name Nansarunai is a reference to an independent state in what is now, modern-day Borneo. This state was established just before the 12th-century and, despite its prosperity, was attacked by the Majapahit people in 1389 which led to its eventual decline. This event was known as Nansarunai Usak Jawa, which translates to “the destruction of the Nansarunai by the Javanese”.
Other than this tidbit of information, it is hard to decipher what the content of the music directly relates to because the vocals are so god damn brutal that no words can be transcribed from the abominable performance. This is something I particularly like about this album. The vocals are so far in the background of the mix (alongside the drums) while the guitars take centre stage; they apparate and disappear like some antediluvian spirit awakening from an unsettled tomb. The single member of the band is also a mysterious character, not even named on the record. So, one could hypothesise that they could be a restless spirit haunting an Indonesian recording studio.
Although some titles on the album are generic, the theme of the titles seems to allude to the story told above: a musical representation of a thriving nation, embroiled in war and lost in the mists of time. I am fascinated by history, and something about the vividly human focus of this album is refreshing. 666’s and Baphomet be damned; I want more raw black metal artists writing about famous historical figures like Genghis Khan and Cyrus the Great rather than focusing on theistic themes. Although a lot of modern black metal bands do follow this trend, it is not the convention when it comes to the raw, lo-fi type.
This record is not particularly ground-breaking in terms of composition or performance, but I did enjoy it nonetheless. The album features great melodic riffs which get stuck in your head and it exudes an atmospheric quality that is cold yet comforting. The riffs could contain traditional melodies, but since I have no frame of reference for music from this specific time, my ears hear the melodies as mostly minor and diminished.
The album opens with an obligatory creepy soundscape, not unlike an underwater house of horrors. The minute-long intro is short and sweet and is broken with sickening guitar tones, tremolo picking, and dark, minor melodies. The guitar sounds as if it has been re-amped through a trash can. The drums kick sounds like a cardboard box, and the snare-like paper stretched across taught strings. The bass is barely audible as is par for the course; vocals buried in the cacophonic turmoil. This piece, called “II. Enthronement Ceremony”, is violent and unrelenting.
The next track, “III. Old Panegyric Poem”, has a quality that I am not used to hearing in raw black metal, and that is a touch of the cinematic. It possesses chords that seem to have complex sounds, diminished or even jazzy qualities, which help to create this sense. When listening to this piece I get the impression I am rushing through a dark wood, seeking a place of refuge but ever on the edge, as pursuers follow close behind. I can’t help but shake the scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, where Snow White is escaping into the woods with all the creepy trees and ghastly images swirling around her. There is a reason I used a Disney reference here, although it may feel slightly strange, and that is because even with the music being as dark and morbid as it is, it has these real moments of childish positivity. An innocent positivity that is an unusual emotion to draw out of a lo-fi black metal record, but it is one I experienced all the same.
Other than the qualities mentioned in the tracks above, the album tends to be one-dimensional. The song structures are repetitive and there is not much lead work other than the melodic leads that are played over the riffs. The drumming is simple although still effective. For the most part, the album can be best summarised as black metal that flows between cold, dark, and aggressive to triumphant and uplifting all the while maintaining a frenetic energy (save the odd interlude).
Despite not being that new in sound, the concept behind the album is great and the music compelling to listen to. I love the lo-fi yet atmospheric shroud that fills the room when I give this record a spin. If dirty black metal is your thing, then make sure to give this one a listen.
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You can grab a digital copy of Ultimul Rege over on Nansarunai’s Bandcamp page. As far as I can tell, no other merch seems to be available right now. A vinyl run over at Death Kvlt Productions will commence sometime in the latter half of 2021. As is true to form, this artist is not on Spotify and can only be found on Bandcamp.