Release year: 2021
Slightly over a year after their debut album (reviewed here), German trio Zwiespalt are back with their second album, Distanz. In what I consider a pretty clever and inventive move, the cover art for the second album is almost identical to the first – seems like the exact same scene in a different time of the year. I must admit I didn’t realize it at first, only when actually comparing the two side by side.
As with the cover, so it is also with the actual audial content: for those familiar with the first album, this is instantly recognizable. Not necessarily as another Zwiespalt album, considering originality isn’t their strongest suit, but definitely as being in the same vein. And if you liked the first album, Ambivalenz, you’ll most likely like this one.
In other words, raw and abrasive black metal of the turn of the millennium kind is the name of the game here. By and large the elements have remained the same: a strangulated, coarse shriek; speedily tremolo picking guitars; speedy, blasting tempos with a definite organic touch to them; and a bass that is very low in the mix. A very classic, raw late 90’s and early noughties black metal sound, indeed!
However, I do feel some minor things have changed. I feel this is more Judas Iscariot and the likes than Darkthrone. There’s that same kind of utterly hostile, barren feel to the music, an almost virulent hostility to give any leeway to accessibility or easy hooks. You won’t find many catchy riffs or, god forbid!, melodies here. No rhythm or catchiness in the vocal lines, no nothing. The guitar sounds like there’s exactly one layer most of the time, resulting in a sound that’s bordering on too thin. The sound is dry and brittle and definitely leaning towards the lo-fi end of things whilst still remaining sufficiently clear.
Zwiespalt still sound like a very authentic band from the continental European scenes of that time, like perhaps one of the slightly more proficient bands to release albums on small, obscure labels and pass on into the darkness of time almost completely forgotten. The kind of albums middle-aged wankers aren’t buying over-priced vinyl re-releases of, because these never reached the cult-but-not-too-cult status that will rake in nice amounts of cash from those wallowing in miserable nostalgia 20 years later. But nostalgia does play a role in my liking of Zwiespalt, that I do not deny!
And, yes, Zwiespalt still make it work. As with my review of Ambivalenz, I realize my description above may sound like I’m describing something shit, but I’m not. It’s like Zwiespalt have sifted through all these albums, boiled them down to their basic building blocks, and filtered away all of the things that made so many of those albums clumsy and entirely forgettable. The result is, despite its introvert and hostile nature, enjoyable.
Distanz probably won’t become a classic in years to come. In fact, I think it may suffer the same fate as its spiritual forebears from 20 years ago: vanish into the darkness of time and be almost completely forgotten. But even if that were the case, Distanz is still a good album. Proficient although maybe a bit pastiche, this is definitely something that will tickle familiar nerves for those who spent the early noughties digging through obscure black metal albums released by obscure black metal labels and sold by obscure black metal distros. Ah, I wax nostalgic!
But luckily, nostalgia isn’t the only thing these guys have going for them. Distanz is a genuinely good album, which in its rather brief 24 minute runtime certainly doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
Summary: Tapping a two-decade old vein, Zwiespalt hit pay dirt again.