Nebuchadnezzar was the longest-reigning monarch of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, presented in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco as a brutal, hawkish, and despotic ruler. The Bible also identifies him as the destroyer of the temple of Salomon – clearly, he was not exactly a happy camper. As it happens, his name also stands for 15 liters of wine, as many traditional wine bottle sizes are named after Biblical kings and historical figures. With the Scandinavian spelling, Nebukadnessar, this majestic name adorns the title of the opening track on the album, ”Musta III,” by the intriguing wine-connoisseur-gone-black metal artist, OENOS. Formed in 2016 in northern Finland, OENOS is the one-man project of Sami Tuohino, now based in London, UK. He’s a man on a mission, set out to explore the fathoms of atmospheric black metal through oenological means. Oenology, incidentally, is the study of wines. Legend has it that, back in the day, there once was a spectacular character, who turned water into wine. OENOS, with the name deriving from the Greek word for wine, is a one-man musical onslaught that turns this divine elixir into extreme metal. All the songs on his new album were written under the influence of various wines from around the world – and named after the bottle. Resorting to alcoholic beverages in order to liberate one’s muse must be one of the oldest catalysts for creativity, but I must admit that I’ve never seen such commitment before. So let’s see how it plays out.
”Nebukadnessar” resonates with the full-bodied bouquet of frustration, likening the ancient Babylonian king to the modern-day egoistic world leaders, who exploit organized religion, ancient constructs, and gods to drive their own shady agendas and twisted worldview forward. The mouth-feel of the song is a harmonious fusion of an intense wall of distortion and clean, post-rockish tremolo picking, inspired by a cracking, dark red wine from South Africa. Tuohino admits that the wine sure wasn’t cheap, but worth every penny. ”Enjoying the whole bottle didn’t disappoint and gave me ample material to write most of the song in one night,” he claims. As of writing this, it still remains unverified whether this particular wine would amplify the ”in-ear” sensation accordingly – it might be worth giving a shot, just maybe not in the amount of a Nebuchadnezzar, the whole 15 liters, at once. The song performs rather magnificently without the boost of fermented grapes as well. The monster riffs march on, crushing everything on their path, just like the hordes of ancient Babylonian foot soldiers would have.
In ”Perafita” we hear a bit of Finnish. Tuohino’s vocal delivery takes such a deep nod towards the harsh that it’s hard, even for a Finnish native like me, to make out the words. He’s singing about undoubtedly nothing short of a mythological figure, ”maailmanmestaaja,” which would translate as something like the hangman of the world. Well, even with the lyrics enshrouded mostly in vague darkness, the music drives the point home with the genuinely malign ruthlessness of a true executioner. At this point, the listener might be startled by the sheer power of the realization that OENOS is an independent artist. I’m not trve kvlt enough to be in the know of whether the black metal underground is overly saturated or not, but I’ve heard substantially less impressive stuff released via established labels.
Now, in all honesty, the acoustic track, ”Enstikto,” pays such homage to the DIY-aesthetics of the forest-y kind of black metal that it bears very little appeal to me. The hippie-folksy strumming on the acoustic guitar is not necessarily a winning formula, especially when it’s paired with vocals that sound like they have been recorded in a toilet booth with some low-end microphone. BJÖRK pulled it off on her debut album, but she had THAT voice. Tuohino‘s raw black metal shrieks are rather impressive and his clean vocals have a distinct 1990s grunge vibe. Nevertheless, on this particular track he seems to have cut himself maybe a little too much slack. The leading melody, played on the acoustic guitar, is nice though. With a bit more disciplined execution maybe, the track could have plunged into the realms of WOODS OF YPRES even.
That said, the rest of the album is class A black metal of the ethereal kind, with a few more surprises hidden up its sleeves. ”Bock,” for instance, opens with a dark piano motif, just like any typical black metal sonata, but after a brief spell of harsh incantations by the unholy cantor, the crushing riffs give way to guitar arpeggios that channel the essence of certain 1980s hits by THE CURE. Maybe Robert Smith would not have approved of the short, bluesy guitar solo. It sounds cool in a way too un-Gothic way.
After the brief hippie moment in ”Enstikto,” the album takes off on an upward spiral, building up tension nicely towards the end. ”Pics” is a maelstrom of crushing distortion that’s counter-balanced by dueling post-rock guitars and in ”Theotoky” you can hear how a hypnotic guitar ostinato evolves into a mountain of a song. It might be a little bit awkward to say, of a post-black metal album, that it steals into your heart, just to rip it out of your chest. That’s exactly what ”Musta III” does. The album closes with a dark and minimalist piano ballad, ”Alma,” which also incorporates lyrics in Finnish. I’m pretty confident the wine that would pair exceptionally well with this song is of that certain type which will leave tears down the inside of the glass when swirled.
What a magnificent album! No doubt, with the money machine production provided by an established label, this fine outing by OENOS would have been even better – spectacular. Here’s a great musician with a vision that can be summed up in few words: in vino veritas.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
Sami Tuohino – everything