Avant-garde metal powerhouse Virus are about to release their new album Memento Collider via Karisma Records. (Get it from Amazon.) The trio, consisting of Czral on vocals and guitars, Plenum on bass, and Einar Sjursø on drums, have always operated within the confines of the metal scene, probably due in no small part to their pedigree in any number of prior acts, particularly Czral‘s other main project, the atavistic thrashers Aura Noir. But Virus has always stood out. Their “heaviness” is not so much a product of overdriven guitars and extreme tempos. Instead, their intensity derives from their alien atmospheres and menacing and caustic incongruousness.
Those familiar with the Virus catalog will find themselves quite at home here. In fact, album opener “Afield” picks up right where the last album, The Agent That Shapes the Desert, left off. Serpentine guitar lines dance with the bass’s constantly twisting counterpoint, the whole thing lying atop the drums’ constantly propulsive beat. There has always been a sense of King Crimson gone Gothic by way of the Sahara to the band’s sound, and they maintain that atmosphere in spades.
The progression from the last album to the current release starts to reveal itself on the second track, “Rogue Fossil.” The time signatures and twisted arpeggios reach demented new heights, and the instrumental aspect of the song feels like it is fighting an expertly crafted tug-of-war with itself. By the third track, “Dripping into Orbit,” Virus sounds like it is barely holding the fractious structure together, but the tightrope walk is utterly breathtaking. For a band that has always pushed their sound into the unknown, it is stunning to hear how much further they can forge ahead.
The album continues to tread the same treacherous path throughout its entirety. Maybe, just maybe, “Gravity Seeker” searches for some sort of grounding, but in the end it would still only be a glorious perversion of traditional songcraft. Album closer “Phantom Oil Slick” keeps the bar held high for its nearly ten-minute running time, until finally concluding with one final madness-inducing arpeggio.
Despite their fan base among the metal faithful, Virus is entirely its own beast sonically, challenging genre loyalists’ preconceptions at every turn. There still exists a tenuous thread tying their work to all three members’ former band Ved Buens Ende, who explored a warped version of psychedelic black metal in the mid-Nineties, although Czral assures us Virus isn’t a direct continuation of that band. Still, there is a good chance that much of the Virus fan base, circa 2016, is familiar with both that predecessor and this group’s own back catalog, and are the type to find themselves seeking out this kind of musical mayhem. For the uninitiated however, Memento Collider might be the most harrowing Virus album to start with, but nevertheless, it’s a labyrinth well worth entering.