LUGUBRUM – Wakar Cartel review

What exactly is Belgian brown metal? Well, it’s like a kind of rural black metal, so unpolished and organic it can only be brown in hue, like soil, or manure. Interested? Then let me explain the last offering of jazz blackish brown metal from LUGUBRUM TRIO, which I suspect I can only really put into context by first going back in time a bit to the brown era of LUGUBRUM.

I first heard LUGUBRUM in the early 00s when distro trading. I think I can tell a pearl in the rough when I hear it, so, no matter that the filthy production of 1999’s De Totem or 2004’s De Vette Cuecken would send most listeners’ eyes rolling and fingers jabbing at the eject button, there is no hiding the talents of this band from someone with fanatical ears. Is that you? Can you hear what’s going on, no matter how ragged the guitar sound? I’d listen to these Belgian lunatics in the car on repeat, and looking back, the kids got a blast most days before dropping them off at school, skipping through the gates in their little dresses and plaits, clutching their lunch boxes, with the sound of this kind of stuff still ringing in their ears. They turned out alright though….

I’m going to nail my carrot to the mast here. There are plenty of other noisy and disgusting black metal bands about, all clattering drums and arrogance; ranting about satan, darkness and totalitarian politics, and although the music is often good, I kind of got sick of the misery of it all after a few years. What makes this band so different? The answer is, I think, that while LUGUBRUM share(d)? the same world as some of the most depressing people you’d ever want to meet ( and for those of you thinking some of these extreme bands and their fans are simply double bluffing and that they’re ‘alright really’, after meeting a few of these weird cunts I would respectfully point you towards the duck test ) I’m not sure where the band stand on social issues – always assume WYSIWYG in this genre – but LUGUBRUM as an artistic venture are just fucking hilarious; from the way they play, to the lyrics, to the artwork, from how they position themselves sonically in a genre filled with woe, yet incorporate mockingly disparate themes – all delivered with a straight face. Over the years they never let the mask slip, and somehow always got away with it.

The musical eccentricity became more noticeable on 2007 Albino De Congo, with World Music ™ exoticisms creeping in for quite lengthy passages, and then later on the absolutely stellar Face Lion Face Oignon – where it could be argued that they were at their peak – a concept album based on Napoleon’s failed scientifically progressive ( yes competing European nations, those bastard philosophs and the idea of expanding the Enlightenment really did go a long way to making the world what it is today ) and military conquest of the middle east – thirty five minutes of fizzy, dense hyperactive insanity, broken by the cool emergence of broad glassy expanses of clean noodling, with leads that are often so intentionally not appropriate that it just makes you smirk, all topped with what I can only assume is a deliberately comedic French ‘vomiting style’ accent, courtesy of vocalist Barditus, sadly his last appearance with LUGUBRUM ( before his liver exploded? ). How they make it work I do not know.

Which brings us to the present era – LUGUBRUM TRIO. 2015’s Herval carries on much of the work of Face Lion… but with more experimentation. The opening minute of the album gives the genre-faithful everything they want to hear – thrashy, urgent riffing and uptempo bassline / drumming, before deconstructing into, wait for it, a reggae piece, resplendent with quacking single coil guitar wah leads, and a West Indian accent. I don’t think they go so far as to mention watermelons in the lyrics, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide if there’s any agenda, other than a blatant ‘everything goes’ post-modernist pastiche. The song reconnects with the old days towards the end with the emergence of blast beats, but blast beats played over a choppy awkward sounding guitar – because the sound is never normal remember – punctuated with Midgaars shouting like a drunk. His vocals aren’t as funny as those of Barditus, which often used to make me spit my beer out laughing when I heard them, but they work in the small doses that pepper this mostly instrumental venture.

By 2017, perhaps one could say that gone is the last thread that connected the other three members stylistically to the black metal world – here is a place where all bets are off, and the band has morphed into an avant garde jazz act, but one that would make true jazz fans soil themselves, and their eyes bleed with anger as they tried to work out why music college didn’t teach them that music this wrong could actually exist.

Wakar Cartel starts off with a trombone part blasting a long motif over military tom drums. They keep this up for quite a while. This will make even long term fans raise an eyebrow. Track two has a ‘wrong’ twelve over four drum beat that would normally be reserved for areas of tension, but it is pretty much kept up throughout the six minutes or so of shouting and contrasting tremelo surf guitar parts. Track three has a very pleasant clean riff before getting really filthy again. I’m getting a whiff of Virus and some of the Norse pantheons of avant garde BM here. Track four is funk, yes funk, hahaha! This lasts for a minute or so of minor noodling; the funkiness fades and the notes gets wronger and darker until it morphs into a pretty strong riff shape. The song eventually gets going then, after about five minutes. The last track is a long pleasant outro similar to what they were doing on Albino. 31 minutes and it’s done!

Is Wakar Cartel better than their older stuff? It’s probably not as coherent – the sound of a band doing what they want to do I guess. Instrumentally they are at this point really good – you musicians should be jealous of their abilities, and catching them live would be recommended.

To conclude, they’ve come a long way in a quarter of a century, but oddly the new stuff still sounds like black metal, albeit wearing an Hawaiian shirt. This is the black metal avant-garde jazz you should be listening to if you wish to maintain your unpopularity, or almost never meet anyone else who understands you. That said, if you do know someone who will listen to this band with you – cherish them with all your heart. For that reason, long live LUGUBRUM, and the LUGUBRUM TRIO!

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