HÅN: Breathing The Void
Release year: 2021
Label: Northern Silence Productions
I don’t know exactly why, but for some reason whenever a non-Nordic artists adopts a name that’s in one of the nordic languages, my reaction is immediately negative. I admit it’s in no way fair, because when a band from wherever picks a French or German name, let alone an English name, I don’t as much as raise an eyebrow. Perhaps it’s because Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish, or the other nordic languages, have no claim to be any kind of lingua franca. The immediate suspicion is that the motive behind choosing the name is excess fanboyism. Again – I admit this is far from fair, but that’s them breaks. We all harbour some prejudices, right?
This applies very much to black metallers Hån, whose name means “scorn” in Norwegian (and Swedish). Hån hail from Switzerland, a country where many languages are spoken but, to the best of my knowledge, not a single one of them use the very Scandinavian letter “å”. So the choice of name is a bit funny. But we Finns have a saying, “ei nimi miestä pahenna ellei mies nimeä”, which translates to “the name does not tarnish the man unless the man tarnishes the name.”
Let that be our guiding star.
And, to be perfectly honest, or should I say hånest, har har, Hån do not tarnish their name. Quite the contrary, in fact: their take on black metal is not very original or groundbreaking, but it is extremely solid. With over ten years of experience and one earlier full-length album under their belt, on Breathing The Void the quintet sound focused.
With a name borrowed from the Norwegian language, it will come as no surprise that there is a solid foundation of norsecore in Hån’s sound. This is traditional black metal to the extreme, but the scornful Swiss group also look east of Norway, picking plenty of elements from the more modern Finnish sound as established by acts such as Satanic Warmaster and Baptism. This means a lot of melodic musical aesthetics, especially in the guitars, but without sacrificing rawness or primitivity. In other words, “melodic” here does not have the same subtext or soft or over-polished as it often did back in the 90’s – this is the kind of reclaimed melodicism that the early noughties Finnish bands reintroduced to black metal, and which has since spread throughout the global scene.
Breathing The Void is the kind of album which is to be taken as a whole. Individual tracks do contain plenty of nice touches, elements and sections, but there’s no “hit songs” here, no standout tracks that’ll make or break the album. Instead, the tracks fluently flow into each other forming an album-length whole which is stronger than the single tracks picked apart from each other. To reiterate, Hån’s sound is by no means original, but characteristic elements do rise up upon repeated listens: vocalist Gnist’s hoarse rasp and occasional hysteric shriek, the adequate riffwork, and in particular the tempos, which mostly stick to a speedy mid-tempo, utilizing blasting or lurching only in controlled doses.
All in all, Breathing The Void is a very solid black metal album, which manages to take some essentially rather worn and even over-used building blocks, and make something worthwhile out of them. In the overall scheme of things, bands that fit the general description of Hån – “melodic yet raw black metal inspired by the Finnish sound” – are a dime a dozen. Purely musically, Hån do not differentiate themselves particularly much from the rest, but qualitatively speaking, Breathing The Void is on a different level than the most generic, faceless exponents of the same approach.
To return to the Finnish saying of a name not tarnishing the man, with this album Hån certainly vindicate their choice of name, if there was any need for that in the first place. Breathing The Void is well-crafted package of modern, traditional black metal fans of the style would do well to check out.