Phil Elverum, the eccentric songwriter who’s carried his home recording projects through a series of mutating names and incarnations for over a decade now, has never seemed to be in the business of making new friends. After a series of landmark experimental records for the K label as the Microphones, he’s stuck to a trickle of self-released projects as Mount Eerie: a couple could be considered albums, but just as many have been books of photography, journals, posters, and all conceivable lengths of singles and EPs. The impossible output is supported only by shows in galleries and small venues, most of which are stacked with Elverum’s musical companions and somehow always start about three hours later than they’re supposed to.
Elverum’s M.O. remains decidedly old-school, mirroring the business plans of 90s punk and indie labels, while the infrastructure that’s traditionally supported careers like his has largely collapsed around him. Indie distributors are dropping out of the game left and right; the kinds of zines that once would’ve tracked his every move have dwindled to a few websites and blogs that mostly press major releases. Without the reputation that precedes him, it’s not likely he’d be accumulating many new fans in 2009.
This is especially true upon hearing Wind’s Poem, his new pseudo-black metal experiment, which opens with a minute of messy, furious drum and guitar noise that sounds like it’s coming from behind the closed door of a dark room you’re not sure you want to enter. Needless to say, it’s not a friendly introduction; in fact, it may be the tinniest, soupiest sound he’s put to tape. The metal passages on Wind’s Poem are thick with so many layers of washed-out distortion and processed cymbal loops, there’s hardly any melody to discern. Though that first minute is probably the most black metal moment on the record, it’s a fair warning of what’s to come.
Elverum has been public about the gradual development of his Norwegian metal curiosity over the past several years, and Wind’s Poem isn’t his first time dabbling. Last year’s Black Wooden Ceiling Opening was definitely metal, though filtered through the expansive ear of a home producer and avowed analog nerd. Despite the persistent double bass drum and the twin bass/guitar riffs, there was a warm, almost organic kind of distortion at play that felt nothing like the thin, icy sounds more commonly ascribed to black metal. Calling it “black wooden” was only half a joke.
Wind’s Poem is more deliberately true to form, though the bursts of aggression are paced at a crawl between softer, airier tracks that force you to cautiously tune back in. He’s used the same dynamic pattern on past albums, alternating between overdriven, drum-heavy rock and longer, more patient soundscapes. “Through the Trees,’”constructed almost exclusively of vintage organ and whispered vocals, clocks in over 11 minutes. “Ancient Questions,” carried along by swells of delay-treated piano, could easily be mistaken for Grizzly Bear.
This is neither typical Mount Eerie, nor a hasty repackaging of an established underground subgenre meant to earn cool points with the black t-shirt kids. Instead, it’s somewhere in between. Elverum’s songs have always been dark and introverted, broad sketches about nature and human senses. Countless lyrics can be boiled down to “how wind feels.” At heart, this isn’t much different from the work he’s nodding to. The connection was always there; on Wind’s Poem, it’s just louder than before.