Black Metal. What do those words conjure in your mind? Even though I know and like some black metal that does not fit this stereotype, as soon as I see or hear a band described as black meatal I think of lo-fi one-man-bedroom-bands of dubious talent. Sometimes the lo-fi nature of the recording seems to me as much an excuse to hide a lack of musicianship or production skills, as an aesthetic choice. I have listened to far more black metal albums I’ve endured than enjoyed, and I admit a certain degree of reluctance to take on such albums for review. Somalgia is (or, at least, was) ostensibly a black metal band. Looking back at the Bandcamp page for the record label that Somalgia’s debut album, Inverted World, is released on, it would appear that their first label release (at least, on Bandcamp) was a spit between Somalgia and Peasant. I’ve not (yet) listened to that, but it’s cover art is definitely typical of black metal; demonic and monochrome. It doesn’t draw me in, and the only reason I’m likely to listen to it is because I’ve now listened to and love Inverted World. But just take a look at the cover art! That’s about as far from black metal as it’s possible to be, right? Talk about an inverted world! And the music is just as colourful and creative. It’s a whole heap of fun to listen to, which is not how I’d normally describe listening to black metal (even the stuff I like).
Now, I can’t claim to know just what Somalgia actually means. It might not mean anything, chosen as a band name simply because it sounds kind of cool. The press kit I received certainly gives no indication. But given the nature of this album, I can’t help but take a guess at what Somalgia might be. If nostalgia is a form of home sickness, where the longing for the past comes from the Greek nostos (return home) and algos (pain), then I like to assume that the “pain” of Somalgia comes from the Soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Given that those taking Soma are unlikely to experience any Somalgia, one can surmise that, rather, Somalgia occurs when you come off the drug. An experience akin to taking the red pill in The Matrix (as opposed to the blue pill that Soma effectively is). The blue pill frees its taker from the manufactured utopian world, and reveals the reality. But escaping into the real world is harsh and difficult, and the result is Somalgia. Huxley called Brave New World a negative utopia, and Somalgia is the inevitable dystopian “pain” one experiences upon becoming aware of how inverted the world is. Realisation of the inversion leads to alienation and confusion – and the “post-genre music” of Somalgia, as they describe themselves on Bandcamp, portrays this wonderfully.
I say they, because even if Somalgia did begin as a one-man-band (possibly in his bedroom, but that’s by the by), it now has two members. The founding member is Tom Collins, which is perhaps a name not many will be familiar with. But joining him on Inverted World is a name that many will be far more familiar with, and that’s Ryan Stevenson (of Zopp). Now I don’t want to detract from Tom, but having Ryan’s name attached to Somalgia will surely pull in a greater audience – including a fair few who might otherwise run away screaming from anything vaguely resembling black metal. There’s no getting away from the fact that black metal plays a part in Inverted World, but it is only a part, and it’s as subverted as everything else. Nothing is as it seems. The band states that, “Lyrically, Inverted World follows a young man’s journey through an awakening process in which he struggles to come to terms with the nature of reality, falls down endless conspiracy rabbit holes, battles addiction, consumerism and technology overload and ultimately understands what it means to be an outsider in a backwards world.” The music follows that slightly schizophrenic and tortured path to discovery, taking in the tropes of multiple genres along the way, but often not in a conventional or expected manner. (Such is the nature of the blue pill.) So, sure there is some black metal, if you want to call it that, but also electronica, trip hop and psychedelia. (Pills and psychedelia go hand in hand, right?)
It’s also bonkers. The musical curveballs and odd directions taken by Somalgia remind me often of French avant garde metal acts like Creature and Igorrr – while never actually sounding like either. But they all seem to share a love of exploring and subverting the norms of metal, and creating new ways of looking at things (or hearing them, I guess). And as well as it works for Creature and Igorrr, Somalgia take it to the next level, simply because Inverted World is a concept album about someone coming to grips with looking at what was assumed to be normal in a new light. The protagonist lives the music, and we get to live it vicariously through him. If I were to compare Somalgia to a black metal band at all, and it’s a stretch, I guess it would be Borknagar, and their flirtations with the avant garde. For sure, Somalgia can pull out some anthemic earworms just as well as the Norwegian big guns. The March of Tyranny is simply irresistible, and I find myself singing the refrain to myself all the time. It might have come late in the year, but it’s easily one of my favourite songs from 2021. It’s the deserved centrepiece of Inverted World, and likely to be the track most shared from the album by those seeking to introduce it to their friends, as it has a greater air of accessibility that most of the other tracks – and did I mention just how damn catchy it is?
The album concludes with Final Utterance, which is quite possibly the heaviest song on the album, lyrically, but delivered in a delicate and beautiful manner. It’s a perfect climactic moment, delivered fabulously. The use of a guest vocalist, Kat Elizabeth, only augments this already strong piece. In the last minute it crescendos stirringly, before dropping away in an impactful manner. The album is over, and all too soon. At just over half-an-hour, this is a short burst of energy that leaves me wanting more. Inverted World is an incredible debut album, and if the band remain as this duo, I imagine future releases will prove just as entertaining and enjoyable, as Tom and Ryan clearly each have a sense of experimentation and invention that bounces off each other in tangents that may otherwise not have been explored. Somalgia may have begun as black metal, but they are so much more now, and who knows just where they will take their sound. Whoever that is, I will eagerly be following them there….
01. God Is Dead (2:58)
02. Recalcitrant (3:52)
03. Wonderland (7:19)
04. Consumer (2:52)
05. The March of Tyranny (7:08)
06. Dear Rulers (5:22)
07. Final Utterance (5:13)
Total Time – 34:44
Tom Collins – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Vocals, Lyrics, Synthesisers
Ryan Stevenson – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals, Drums
Kat Elizabeth – Additional Vocals
Record Label: Repose Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 12th December 2021
Somalgia – Bandcamp