Keys to the three levels of decay

ABSOLUTE KEY: The Third Level Of Decay

Release year: 2022
Label: Signal Rex

Previously, we reviewed Finnish one man act Absolute Key’s Sundust (here), calling its combination of industrial and black metal “an album of intriguingly twisted esoteric electronics”. The prolific act released another album in 2022 as well – The Third Level Of Decay, showcasing a very different side to Absolute Key’s musical spectrum.

The artist himself has called The Third Level Of Decay one of Absolute Key’s most black metal releases. And, we accede, this is true. That doesn’t mean it’s any less unconventional or “out there”. In fact, in some ways, it’s far more that than Sundust.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, there are actually entirely conventional black metal elements on the album. Tremolo-heavy, buzzsawing riffs, nastily shrieked vocals, pounding drums and all that. But anyone hoping for an actually conventional black metal album… well, read on (and keep on looking).

You see, to start with, Absolute Key lace these more conventional elements with a sound that is through and through mechanized. The crackling, distorted and reverberating sound is like the album was being blared out in some factory hall full of large, empty, metallic vats. And that’s just the beginning. The percussive elements sound more like banging on heavy slabs of metal, almost ritualistic in their repetitive nature. And, of course, the more “normal” musical elements are offset by noisy industrial electronics.

The end result certainly isn’t anything for people looking for a substitute for Marduk or Satanic Warmaster. No, think more along the lines of Havohej’s Kembatinan Premaster, the magnificent black noise demos of US act T.O.M.B., and the barely controlled chaos of Stalaggh. That’s the ballpark where The Third Level Of Decay most comfortably fits, even though it certainly isn’t too close to any of these. Structured but chaotic, mechanized and industrialized, disjointed black metal noise is what The Third Level Of Decay is all about.

Apparently the album deals with visions of death and its successive stages: from the physical death of an individual to the demise of spirit and ultimately to the undoing of the entire concept of death. The death of death represents the titular third level.

In a way, this is represented in the structure of the album. The overall, although far from uniform, progression is from structure towards chaos. The music mirrors the increasing decay as we go through the levels of death. In the end, what remains is a colorless, formless and shapeless vortex of ultimate chaos that devours everything.

In going deeper into conventional black metal territory than usual, Absolute Key has created an album that paradoxically is all the more unconventional for it. Though there are moments of “straight” music here, the weirded-out sound and the increasing elements of noisy industrial chaos make The Third Level Of Decay anything but easily accessible. Absolute Key take the conventional elements present on the album, and twist them into something almost perverse. It is a demanding album, which takes a good few listens to wrap your head around.

But it’s worth it. I admit I haven’t heard everything Absolute Key have released, but out of what I have heard, The Third Level Of Decay is quite clearly my favourite release. It is weird, esoteric, mysterious, evocative and complex. It’s an album that keeps revealing new sides to it with successive listens.

Like previous albums, The Third Level Of Decay certainly isn’t something for everyone. It might even be described as an acquired taste. However, for those weirdos out there who can appreciate the twisted and far from harmonious amalgamation of industrial noise and outsider black metal, this album comes wholeheartedly recommended by yours truly.

Visit Absolute Key on Bandcamp or Facebook

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