Examine The End With Alghazanth

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Swathe my flesh in the blackest satin, adorned with the spells we shared. Lay me down on a bed of branches, and let the flames strike high.
When at last I wake up to greet, the horizons of blazing red, arms no longer extend from me, but a pair of golden wings instead.*

If ever there was a cult band, it was Alghazanth. Founded in ’95, they spread their message of symphonic black metal for 23 years and while they certainly found their own place in the scene, never did they rise to the heights that many of their peers have since reached. Having always been led by Gorath Moonthorn and Thasmorg, the bands ambition, direction and style has remained more or less same, though the lattermost has also undergone some reconsideration as other members have revolved, for while the lyrics have always been Gorath’s work, the music has more or less been a collective effort of the band at the moment. Too melodic for the masses yearning for rawness, too romantic for the crowds riling for violence, too clean to become an underground favourite. Yet too raw and eclectic to garner mainstream attention. Lyrics that would rather detail drummer Gorath ‘s dabbling in the occult, spiritual life and journey, than settle for inane teenage ramblings about Satan, lack of touring abroad, and loyalty to a small label haven’t helped them attain larger attention either. Nevertheless, they managed to create a sturdy fanbase, continue steadily growing and create some of the most majestic black metal put to tape, until with the announcement of Eight Coffin Nails, it was declared they were to be lain to rest.

Of course, another reason that they never rose to prominence may have been their material. I’ve never been much of a fan of the first half of their discography, odd enough as I consider the latter half nigh-untouchable. Especially the records after their debut Thy Aeons Envenomed Sanity seemed to have struggled, but with some line-up changes, stylistic reconsideration and major improvement on quality on 2008’s Wreath of Thevetat, they’ve staked a claim on my heart. With the departure of bassist/vocalist Mikko “Goat Tormentor” Kotamäki to focus on Swallow the Sun and other projects, Thasmorg re-occupied to take over those duties, which brought a newfound elasticity and detail to their music. No longer would the bass merely follow the rhythm, playing often against the guitars and adding small melodic motifs of it’s own. Though the first album with this line-up (also featuring guitarists Mordant & Grimort, as well as keyboardist Ekholm, both of the latter two for the last time) The Three-Faced Pilgrim felt a little inconsistent, though made up for it with “In Your Midnight Orchard”, some of the best nine minutes black metal has ever produced.

 

Eight Coffin Nails makes no big changes to Alghzanth’s music, but there are some minor differences again, compared to it’s predecessor, thanks to Mordant’s increased role in songwriting and lacking a keyboard player (the famed Henri “Trollhorn” Sorvali both arranged, and performed them for the album). Where their latest few have seemed to reach for a higher cosmos, Eight Coffin Nails sounds more mundane and bloodied, though this does not necessarily translate to the lyrical aspect. It has never been a priority of Alghazanth’s to build their songs around the symphonic elements, and in fact they have avoided using the term, preferring the prefix ‘majestic’. The synths have mainly been used to promote and accentuate the most triumphant aspects of their compositions, and while this doesn’t change on Eight Coffin Nails either, some things do. If before they seemed to sprout from the composition, and roughly follow on it’s lines, here they seem to play a more complimentary and fulfilling role as well, and while they rarely grow quiet, whenever they do so, it seems to be used as an element of it’s own.

Alghazanth themselves have staked a claim that Eight Coffin Nails is their best work, citing this as one of the reasons they are calling it quits – continuing beyond this point could only seek an intrinsic goal as there is nothing left to achieve other than existence for it’s own sake and merit. The other being shifting priorities and difficulties in making schedules meet. While I do not know if I should agree with this, I do find Eight Coffin Nails their most consistent record, and a very fine note to end on. In some ways it would seem to gather together all the threads the band has woven throughout their career, the melancholy towards the end of the record, the shifting roles and tonality for the keyboards, the revisited death metal influence on “Aureate Waters” that hasn’t been present since Subliminal Antenora all seems to play for it. On the other hand, I cant help but to think this is, at least in some capacity, a feeling born from the knowledge of the end. For example, the aforementioned “To Flames The Flesh” was conceived over two years ago, at which time no decision of ending the band had been made.

While Eight Coffin Nails isn’t by any means a ‘difficult’ album to approach, it is carefully crafted with several layers that will hardly reveal themselves at once, keeping things fresh over and over again. Each of the songs is meticulously considered, each riff, melody and lead well honed and the band is in no rush to reach their grave. At least lyrically the album does seem to be rather concerned with the end, as The North appears multiple times over several songs. The North of course being the eighth compass point reached when entering a holy circle from the northeast, in accordance to several magical traditions, in addition to representing death, winter and midnight. The concept of the record, and it’s finality seem especially well thought out when you consider that Pohjoinen, north in Finnish, is not only the title of the penultimate instrumental here, but the songs writer Thasmorg’s original artist name that he used on the band’s first demo – featuring their only other Finnish-titled song “Talven Valtias”.

Largely thanks to these hidden meanings and references, I was initially upset that “Pohjoinen” didn’t close the record like it sounds it was written to do, but once “To Flames The Flesh” enters, it’s predecessor begins to look like  a warm-up to the eulogy, one final demonstration of prowess. While the band’s last few records have been of so high quality it’s impossible to pick a clear favourite, it’s likewise hard to believe Eight Coffin Nails could under any circumstances been a better record, it’s just that good.

4.75 / 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Eight Coffin Nails is out now on Woodcut Records, like them on Facebook and tell ’em we said “Hi”

*Gorath Moonthorn – To Flames The Flesh

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