Atmospheric black metal outfit Laster has just unveiled their third full-length album, Het wassen oog. These Dutch deities have so forth proven a mastery within the less harsh realm of black metal, as their two prior albums have been released to fairly critical acclaim. Let’s see how far a black metal project has to go for it to be self-described as “obscure dance music” by the band.
Well, “obscure dance music” really is a fitting description. Laster are known for their atmospheric flavour of black metal, but also for their jazz/dance influences, especially within the group’s new direction. Further quoting Prophecy Productions, the group’s label, this is “their most accessible music to date.”
The band seem to play with self-identity and group representation with their collective output. For those familiar with their work, each successive album cover follows a similar theme, each portraying a group of solemn-looking figures lying over a jaded background à la chalk outline crime scene motif. The number of figures represented on the album cover grows with every album release; the number also pertains to the number of full-lengths released by the group. Alas, Het wassen oog features three somber bonhommes, which coincidentally (but mostly likely not) matches up with how many members the band has. My guess is that Laster’s next full-length (I know we’re jumping ahead here) will feature themes of cohesiveness and the coming together of various human psyches, or something like that, as the band would have reached full form. While I cannot say with 100% certainty that this is a trilogy of sorts, especially since my Dutch is far more primitive than I’d like it to be, there is obviously a lot of thought put into Laster’s output as a whole, and not just with every incremental release.
So that’s your two-paragraph summary on where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what might be coming up; of course implemented with a healthy dose of conjecture.
As stated above, Laster play within the realm of atmospheric black metal with heavy jazz/dance (?) influences. Of course, this is another one of those things that’s just hard to explain and you’d be better off just listening rather than reading, or perhaps listen while you read. Meet me in the middle.
Het wassen oog is an eclectic and complex yet incredibly cohesive album. The 44-minute release is built upon these eerie guitar chords that, while not repeating identically from track to track, offer a sense of stability within Laster’s madhouse of sounds. Aside from these familiar guitar inclusions, the listener is more or less left to Laster’s sonic direction. The band of course includes a sizeable dosage of black metal, with the frantic screaming and whatnot, but offsets this with harmony and, dare I say, happiness. I’m exaggerating a bit here just for the sake of the juxtaposition, but there are sections of this album, particularly during the ending of “Vacuüm ≠ behoud,” where Laster’s musical devices conjoin in harmonious fashion, producing an upbeat, calming, and peaceful section.
The inherent juxtaposition on Het wassen oog is not something outright unique within the world of black metal, as groups of this nature tend to get pretty weird with their music, but the level of cohesiveness on Laster’s output is unmatched. You’re listening to screams, then eerie guitar harmonies, then happier upbeat sections, and then soft-spoken vocals, but it doesn’t feel smacked together like a lot of other experimental metal projects do. This isn’t black metal with jazz influences, this is blackened jazz metal, and for how ridiculous this statement sounds, I believe it aptly sums up Laster’s music. Just listen.
Sometimes I’ll take the time to translate track titles and lyrics when a band is of foreign nature and incorporates native tongue into their music, especially when its only for a song or two, but I thought even attempting to do so would have created little benefit. My reasoning does not revolve around laziness or anything remotely of the like, but rather the sense of musicality that is inherent to any piece of this nature.
Being aware of the lyrical themes present here is only a minor part of indulging in Laster’s music. While I could tell you that some track titles include “Drunkenness” or “Upside down,” knowing so does not necessarily assist in one’s comprehension, especially due to the avant-garde and forward nature of Laster’s music. However cliché and cut/paste the following statement sounds, Laster’s music speaks a thousand words, with its odd time signatures, weaving guitar harmonies, and unorthodox hybrid genre inclusions, and thus language serves only as a barrier, at least with the way I see it. In fact, I’d argue that the group’s music is strengthened by its inherent sense of mystery to non-native speakers, as the release really puts the listener in the dark, both in terms of accessibility and musical influences (after all, Het wassen oog sounds like the mental soundtrack of someone going mad in some sort of industrial-era nuthouse).
A lot of bands opt to produce music in English to cater to a worldwide audience, and while that may offer groups a better chance at succeeding on a financial level and becoming more popular, in most cases this cheapens their music, both in spirit and quality, as it becomes evident that English isn’t their native language. Keeping the Laster project in Dutch gives the band a sense of uniqueness, as they’re not following this common language trend. And while some would argue that I would be better off as a listener (and writer, I might add) if I could understand these lyrics, I would state the contrary.
Ultimately, this is one of those projects that you either get or you don’t. It is also limited by the listener’s ability or desire to consume entire works versus single songs. As you can probably tell by now, this isn’t a release that features a handful of singles with two handfuls of filler. Het wassen oog is an incredible album, appealing both to listeners of the abrasive as well as the peaceful. However, the release is limited by this format, as one really needs to sit down and listen to this album, and grabbing nearly an hour of people’s attention in today’s world of advertisement and distraction can be difficult. I’m sounding a lot like an old man here, but you get my point. Damn millennials.