Covid Diaries by NagaarumRelease date: July 31, 2020
Label: Aesthetic Death
It’s understandable that right now, the last thing anyone wants to hear about is that sodding disease. We’ve lived through it, been bombarded from all angles at all times, so why make an album about it? Because art exists to challenge, that’s why, and Nagaarum is uniquely situated to address the topic having already penned one album, Rabies Lyssa, back in 2014 about a pandemic that would break out in 2019. As such, Covid Diaries not only serves as a unique memoir of these times but also as an epitaph to a story which should have stayed just that – a story.
With each of its six tracks being released on YouTube as they were recorded, Covid Diaries has an element of audience interaction, the feedback on each song received (conceivably) having an effect on the writing of the next but the narrative that runs through these six tracks is remarkably cohesive, and a narrative is very much what this record is. Vocals are interspersed with lengthy spoken word passages delivered, and in some cases written, by webzine editor Roland Szabó and these segments inform Covid Diaries’ most insightful moments, deconstructing ideas of social isolation and online integration (‘Prelude For 2020’), fatalistic optimism (‘Superstitious Remedy’) and the follies of arrogance (‘I Am Special’). Meanwhile, the vocals themselves take on individual characters, with ‘Prelude For 2020’ having a dramatic, full-throated verse and a harsher, more cutting one, with each taking one aspect of its message and, in turn, fully embodying it. ‘Competitors’ takes this further by naming the characters. Vera, Yersinia and Rosie each a personification of a facet of disease, be it the itching, blinding ravaging of Vera or Rosie’s slow, cruel decay over decades. By assigning them not just female names but also female voices, they embody Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the fates of Greek myth, a triumvirate of sisters who literally weave the fate of man; it also brings to mind images of the destroyer, Kali, and the huntress Diana, and in assigning a female narrative to a genre and a discourse that is so often male-oriented, the themes of the album become much more deliberate and nuanced as a whole.
Sonically, Covid Diaries’ six tracks are remarkably dissimilar in tone, which matches the sometimes jarring shifts within the songs themselves. What begins as a cosmic dark ambient deep cut can just as easily shift gears into a loping, doomy trawl through filth, a writhing mass of tremolo and obsidian-hewn distortion or a soaring, near-operatic harmony, and with each of these facets of the record being lent equal weight, it continues the idea of this album functioning as a parable as much as a musical suite. The sections function as vignettes and each play a role, like the space age synths and Geiger counter crackle of ‘The First Ingredient’ serving as a vital atmospheric anchor in the album’s first half, or the sprawling ‘Liquid Tomorrow’ closing out the album like a massive, comprehensive epilogue to humanity’s story. From the measured spoken word intro, the only part of the record delivered in Nagaarum’s native Hungarian tongue, to the black metal croaks and dissonant harmonics of its body, and finally Betty Varga’s angelic melodies and exasperated, haughty declaration of war over an imposing wall of distortion and synth, it is pure drama and it’s just the kind of epic, overblown swansong that the album (and our species) deserves.
It’s likely that this recording won’t be the last work to be written about these times, and it will probably end up overshadowed eventually by a 2-hour long prog opera, of which there’ll be at least three, but in writing the record in the midst of this chaos and by welcoming public feedback throughout the process, Covid Diaries achieves what few others will – it captures the essence of 2020. It’s grim and foreboding, charting the narratives of the sceptics, the faithful and of Earth itself. It’s a grand satire that works on almost every level and if it’s uncomfortable to listen to, that’s because we are living in uncomfortable times.