Review: Darkwoods My Betrothed – Angel of Carnage Unleashed
Third time’s the charm, even after 23 years, right!?
If you’d only give the hype surrounding Darkwoods My Betrothed‘s return a cursory glance, you might mistake it for Tuomas Holopainen’s side-project, but though it was found in Kitee, all the way back in 1993 as Virgin’s Cunt, by the foursome of vocalist Emperor Nattasett, guitarist Hallgrim, bassist Hexenmeister and drummist Tero, much like in the meme. After a couple of demos they saw the folly of their name and changed it to its current form, while Tero more or less decided to step backwards—though he would make an appearance on all of the band’s subsequent albums.
The group’s debut album Heirs of the Northstar was fast, aggressive, and melodic black metal, and owes a great debt to the Scandi-scene of the time, but includes also forays into the more epic style they became better known for. It’s surprisingly vivid and dynamic for its style, not entirely unlike early Satyricon, and still remains the favourite of many. Two songs specifically, “Uller” and especially the 16-minute closer “Yggdrasil’s Children Fall”, came to dictate their future sound and direction with the now infamous ‘moose-singing’ and grandiose songwriting inspired by viking-era Bathory.
Their sophomore release, Autumn Roars Thunder, presented a more even split between the more straightforward black metal cuts and these epics, letting the moose run wild while Witch-Hunts turned to the titular pursuit in Finland for inspiration, ditched the cleans once and for all and returned to a more strictly black metal inspired sound. Still it was less violent than the debut, with more freely changing tempos and feel, while Holopainen’s keyboards became busier, more vivid and more prominent.
Some of the band’s quick development, and meandering between different influences will surely go down as being due to having three principal songwriters who never attempted to hide their separate influences, styles or interests that led into the trio branching into a multitude of projects, separately and together—many of which bled back into Darkwoods My Betrothed one way or another. The viking/power metal of Furthest Shore, the atmospheric/psyched doom of Nattvindens Gråt and its gothic follow-up Nattvind each seem to have determined what the next DMB would not be.
Of the three albums, Angel of Carnage Unleashed most resembles Autumn Roars Thunder, not least because once more each of the band’s three principal songwriters submitted an equal amount of material to the record. And once again, the most recent output of the members outside the band can be seen as taking its ‘toll’ on the group, as Hexenmeister’s Welkins Boreal‘s—the appropriately third coming of Nattvind/ens Gråt—melogoth flavour ensures the softest tones of ART are repelled with the exception of “In Thrall to Ironskull’s Heart”, a failed attempt at capturing the sophomore’s title track’s majesty.
Generally speaking the songs can be divided between the more ‘epic’-minded, pagan metal-styled songs and the more vicious, straightforward black metal cuts, but they also overlap to different degrees. And it is when they do this that Angel of Carnage Unleashed makes the best impression. The opener “Name the Dead” builds on a fairly simple black metal basis—a couple of interludes, two guitar solos and other injections of variety make it that much more interesting—the individual motifs may never be that exciting but the songs transcend their parts. Towards the back-end we’re met with “Massacre” the most simplistic black metal rager found on the record and while not abysmal, or entirely one-note, it struggles to maintain the front-half’s level.
“In Evil, Sickness, And In Grief” still relies on the black metal fury but at a more peaceful pace, painting a bigger though perhaps a less colourful scenery, leaving “Murktide And Midnight Sun” to enter pagan (taadadadidaa daa duh) and prove Nattasett’s growth as a vocalist, his cleans now much less divisive than before, though the opening spoken word section might still irk some people. Generally speaking he hasn’t lost the personal edge from his vocals, although they appear a little subdued in the mix at times which is a shame as the unhinged lunacy of them was the crown jewel of Heirs of the Northstar.
Both “You Bitter Source Of Sorrow” and “Where We Dwell” fuse the two styles together better than elsewhere, the first looking through a more blackened piece of glass, while the latter sees session drummer Kai Hahto invade Hellhammer’s territory with his Double Bass Bullshit, though gracefully less atrocious sounding. I’d forgive it for the keyboard lead ripped straight from some two-penny Bal-Sagoth clone that follows, but then the DBB makes another appearance. *shudder*.
But all in all, so far so good. It’s not a super exciting album, but a fine comeback that has legitimately been awaited for quite some time, at least in certain circles. Holopainen appears as a full member for the first time, which means he’s been a more integral part of the writing sessions than before, applying his keys to the songs from the very beginning, making for more level, nuanced and careful arrangements, though these qualities are not always for the best, lacking sometimes in the charm and quirk of the older albums.
But it’s at the back-half the when problems begin. Early on in this review I let my opinion on “In Thrall To Ironskull’s Heart” loose, while it reaches for a similar mood as the sophomore’s title track but fails to move beyond its central motif and draws far too much influence from the likes of Sabaton and Turisas for my liking, and never joins with the black metal influence heard elsewhere. That it should be followed by “Massacre”, equally among the album’s weaker tracks, makes for a whole lot of stumbling and as these two least integrate both styles, there are some awkward transitions.
“Black Fog And Poison Wind” tries to salvage what it can in the spirit of the opener but can no longer turn the album’s trajectory upwards high enough. Especially as the outro is a little baffling, a synth-strings instrumental that sounds much more like it should’ve been an intro, having no feeling of closure whatsoever.
Angel Of Carnage Unleashed has an interesting concept in The Great Northern War as the Finns experienced it, leading up to the years of Isoviha, or The Great Hate. The painting adorning its cover, with a Kittelsen-like image of death is excellent and at its best the music is so much more than its individual ideas, just as the front-half is so well built each song becomes a little stronger thanks to the ones bordering it. But a couple of rotten apples on the back-half do tremendous damage to the album’s guts, killing any desire to return to almost half of it.