Violent Manifests In A Lightless Necropolis: A Black Metal Mass Review
Presenting a pile of black metal for your pleasure
SARASTUS – ENTER THE NECROPOLIS
I very much enjoyed Sarastus’ debut II – Toinen Tuleminen back in 2014, the band’s brand of black metal was sparse and punky in construct but littered with bright melodies. Afterwards, I was left wanting for more for what seemed like a very long time. It was already the next year when the band uploaded “Tulta Vastaan” from their tentative third record to YouTube, but the album never dropped. Instead, it was eventually announced that Hukka would not continue to be a part of the band, and the search for a vocalist began. When the announcement was made that his place had been taken by Revenant from the German Sarkrista, I did not know whether to rejoice or lament the choice. On the other hand, he’s proven a capable vocalist – on the other, it meant any future records would be sung in English instead of Finnish, which I felt had lent them much character before.
Enter Enter The Necropolis, now having shed much of the remaining punkiness in favour of a rigid and sturdy footing. This in part has lead to a much darker overall tone than on it’s predecessor. I did not at first believe I’d come to grow as fond of it as I had of Tielle Tuntemattomalle, but I seem to have been wrong and it’s climbing it’s way towards my most listened to albums this year. Eschewing the punky playing has only been relative too, “With Hate And Flaming Visions” and “Witness The Earth Descend” for example, still make a good show of this.
The focus, though, lies on the riffs. Enter The Necropolis sweeps left and right with melodic riffs, grandiose riffs, intense riffs, melancholic riffs, blazing riffs, vibrant riffs, riffs written by Gabriel Fauré in 1887, and about seventeen point zero-three-eight other different kind of riffs. There’s plenty of variation between them, as there is between the individual character of each song. The rhythmic basis of the songs isn’t any less pervasive, as Vardøger never contents himself to one style or beat. The manifold faces of the instrumental half of the highlight the lack of such in Revenant’s performance, but he makes up for it with a particularly impassioned one.
A fair follow-up and an excellent record, Enter The Necropolis comes with a hearty recommendation.
KAMPFAR – OFIDIANS MANIFEST
Eight albums in 25 years is not a dizzying achievement, but not all of Kampfar’s contemporaries have achieved even that, and Kampfar boasts a lengthy hiatus or two within those years. The band didn’t release anything between 1999’s Fra Uderverdenen and 2006’s Kvass – Dolk and Thomas were joined by Ask and Jon Bakker on drums and bass respectively, in 2003, and played their first gig the following year. Though the band was harried little by Thomas’ departure at the turn of the decade, 2015’s deplorable Profan was followed by silence, enmity and nigh-end for the band.
But here we are, differences having been put aside and Ofidians Manifest delivered. Not much has changed, sans perhaps the abundance of the raw, powerful clean vocals that brand much of the album. Much of Ofidians Manifest is same-y, riffs, alternating between linear and twisting, follow and coil in an ever similar fashion and the songs blur into anticipation for the next outburst of cleans, or a plaintive piano melody cleaving it in half. Familiarity is not, in itself, an issue, but coupled with neglect of memorable riffs, it becomes one. Though with repeated listens much of this feeling disappears, too much of it lingers.
Opener “Syndefall” moves through remarkably familiar tremolo riffs and blasts, towards the introduction of Dolk’s raspy singing, and “Ophidian” banks on it with a distressing, but striking chorus, whereas “Dominans” introduces Agnete Kjølsrud, familiar from Dimmu Borgir’s “Gateways”. “Natt” returns to to the opener’s feeding grounds, with a hypnotically monotone vocal refrain, at this point it would be impossible to fight away the feeling of vocal-centric black metal album, if it didn’t also feature a fairly memorable riff – first of it’s kind on Ofidians Manifest, and only, besides “Skamløs!”.
Though, much as with Djevelmakt, I am pleased that Kampfar is showing interest in thinking outside it’s particular corner of the box – and hope that unlike with Djevelmakt, this time they’ll continue to develop the newfound tendencies to greater effect in the future, it must be said Ofidians Manifest is largely an unremarkable record. It’s a pleasant one, with decent riffs and plenty of emotion, it does feature memorable motifs – even if almost all of them are, unusually for black metal, for vocals. But even if Kampfar is now using all of the box’s capacity, they haven’t really climbed out of it yet.
MALUM – LEGION
Ever since their 2013 founding Malum has remained enthusiastically active, with three demos, three splits, an EP and now three full-lengths under their belt, and considering the majority of it’s members are active in several other bands, some might say over-enthusiastically so. Slowly but surely the band’s passion has been joined by skill and their songcraft has progressively gotten better with each release. Legion makes no difference to this.
Considerably shorter than it’s predecessor but with the same amount of songs, Legion sees Malum condense their songs to more palatable lengths, and hone their riffs to both, greater diversity and sharper edge. Even though the melodic language itself has hardly changed, there’s a newfound rawness to it and an extended quality of adhesiveness. These qualities have brought the band’s melodic side closer to something that reminds of certain central bands in the so-called Nidrosian Scene.
Although Malum hasn’t changed per se, they’ve become better at what they do. With more diverse songwriting, more compact and memorable songs and more discernible riffs, the band avoids being locked into any single mode. Their brand of black metal isn’t atypical in any sense of the word, but Legion is a pleasant record, rectifying much of the mix-issues that had previously plagued Malum’s works as well.
Even if Malum hasn’t previously plucked a string in your heart, or sparked any interest at all, Legion should please any friend of well-made black metal with a killer artwork.
SARASTUS – THE DECEASED DWELL IN THE DARKNESS
I presume that the intended sophomore was, in the very least, completely written by the time “Tulta Vastaan” was published, and it has been roughly two years since that happened so a productive musician might easily have written another albums worth of good material at least, but even so, following a drought with flood – a third release, a split with Goats of Doom has already been announced – it’s hard to not think Vardøger is releasing everything he can write. Especially when The Deceased Dwell In Darkness took much more spins to hit home than either of the full-lengths.
The Deceased Dwell In Darkness has a much louder and more shrill mix, than Sarastus’ previous work, which at first seems to befit the music poorly, but becomes irrelevant after further study. It’s difficult to discern what exactly keeps The Deceased Dwell In The Darkness from rising to it’s predecessor’s levels, and the best I can offer is that while the riffs are individually every bit as good as before, the songs are less so. Coupled with a slightly unfavourable production, it seems a little too little, a little too early.
Although the title track has one of my favourite Sarastus riffs, and I like the way “The Dwindling Spiral’s” synth outro segues into “Moribund Spirit’s” organ intro. I recognize the quality on this EP, and hope that I will come to appreciate it more when I haven’t spent the last six weeks listening to Enter The Necropolis every day, and i recommend that you start with either of the full-lengths as well.