Noise-rock juggernauts

Arabrot came from Norway to shake you in your boots

By Rev. Adam McKinney on May 12, 2016

I'm not going to pretend that I know every little in and out of the multitudes of metal's subgenres. Much like when I was read the riot act about subgenres by a commenter after writing an article about techno several years ago, my brother has also impatiently explained the subtle nuances that define things like death metal, doom metal, deathcore, industrial metal, and the surely trolling subgenre known as symphonic death metal. What I do know, however, is that at some point a little over 20 years ago, a hell mouth opened up in Norway and the demonic purveyors of black metal burst forth to become the most singularly terrifying subset of musicians on this island Earth.

They scare me, reader, and I'm not afraid to say so.

Enter Arabrot, a band formed in 2001, a band that eschews black metal which, at least in Norway, is as much a political movement as it is a musical genre. Arabrot certainly don't shy away from the heavy stuff - quite the opposite. While the Norwegian-born band is largely referred to as a noise-rock act, their style is all over the shop from album to album, including deeply unsettling forays into doom and experimental squalls. What they possess, though, is a surprising delicacy, delivering the same sort of political anger and doomsaying unease with a relative palatability, especially on their seventh most recent album, The Gospel.

Kjetil Nernes is the perennial frontman of Arabrot, having gone through several lineup changes over the band's 15 years in existence. Through that time, he's always possessed a sort of shamanic presence as the frontman; on The Gospel, it's easy to imagine, in some of these songs, Nernes standing from a balcony, a la Pink in The Wall, proclaiming these lyrics in a commanding tone. While there's a pervasive sense of menace with much of Arabrot's music, The Gospel tempers these tones with weird diversions and songs that don't so much crack the eardrums as open up the brain.

The Gospel was written after Nernes got a diagnosis of malignant cancer, right before the band was supposed to go on tour. Nernes kept the diagnosis a secret until they got back, when Arabrot went to work on creating one of their most diverse and compelling albums to date - even as a band that had already won a Spelleman Award (the Norwegian equivalent of the Grammy) for "Best Metal Album" in 2011 for their breakthrough masterpiece Solar Anus. Nernes returned from tour and began writing The Gospel with a new sense of purpose, describing it as a freshly desired hunger for living, but not quite being able to return to the way you once lived before. The bluster and command that Nernes always contained is amplified and given new life, briefly bestowed some lusher production than they had with their time with the notoriously stark style of producer Steve Albini, while maintaining their imposing sound.

I've read reviews that describe Arabrot as unhinged, and while it may sound that way at times, to my ear they're almost scarily in control of what they want to say and how they want to present themselves. The martial drums and measured vocals of "Tall Man," for instance, show a band at the peak of their powers, at their most impactful and unwilling to dissolve into chaos for the sake of keeping the listener on their toes. Arabrot is a preternaturally elemental band, as forceful and foreboding as a dust storm looming on the horizon. They'll take the tiny stage at the Valley on Friday, and we'll be lucky if the whole place doesn't crumble to the ground.

ARABROT, w/ C Average, Insect Ark, Helen Money, Friday, May 13, 8 p.m., Cover TBA, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265