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Yes, just like the previous reviewers, I AM in fact highly disappointed by this album, but only because I, like many others, expected some sort of Hellfire Part Deux. Once I understood this is a mistake, one that has ruined the reputation of many a great album (take every single post-De Mysteriis Mayhem album as an example), just because they don't "reach the greatness" of a previous effort, rendering the innovation and potential it might have underappreciated by most.
What we have here is definitely the most experimental album this band will probably ever produce unless they decide to jump into the avant-garde or just completely swap genre in the future years. The album could loosely be described as a (most of the time) slowed down, ambient-er Hellfire with mysterious resemblances to Celtic Frost from time to time. All in all there's like 10 minutes worth of "actual" black metal (read: tremolos, blastbeats et all) in this whole album, and most of those minutes aren't that remarkable at all. The sound itself is very similar to the previous album, with the radical difference of the way the drums were recorded and mixed. These sound a lot more dull and silenced, kind of lost in the noise of the extremely loud guitars. The vocals seem to become weakened at the peak of this wall of noise, which really takes some of the aggressivity these guys were known for away.
The other major new aspect this album brings is the experimentation with ambiance and noise. The very first track being a prime example of this, the guitars starting their work just two minutes before the 6 minute song is over. I don't usually see this as a bad thing, except in this case it seems overdone and doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the album. Songs like Misanthropy only reinforce this feeling, because just like Invocation, more than half of the song is comprised of a soft piano and ambient-like sounds, and then the only guitar we actually hear is a droning tone which just drags itself towards the next song.
The rest of the album seems to be closer to black-doom than it is to black metal, slow tempos and repetitive melodies taking over the soundscape, low, chugging powerchords alternated with slight moments of dissonant high pitches, the drums stuck in one speed, the only change in them is the alternate use of double-bassdrums in a very depressive-black-metal fashion, all of this only ever so sporadically interrupted by opaque blastbeats and strangely entertaining solos. We can take the last song as the ultimate example of this new drone-doom sound, being the slowest song on the album, and having the fuzziest feeling of them all, with probably three notes per riff, and probably only two riffs in the whole song, the drums barely making an appearance, and the voice being practically whispered to the microphone, enhanced with some FX, this is as funeral doom as black metal can get (if you still consider this to be black metal that is).
I don't particularly see this as a bad thing. If someone made me listen to this and said this is a debut from some unknown band I'd say "well this is interesting" and would probably end up liking it, but I can't get over the fact that this is 1349 we're talking about, so yeah, it pisses me off at times. But after I get over the fact that there'll never be a work from 1349 like Hellfire, I end up embracing this new direction, hoping this album is only some sort of bridge between their previous style and a more concrete, solid style they'll likely develop in the future.
Now, there's another thing I'd like to mention: The Pink Floyd cover. This is just amazing. Not the music per se, but the fact that a black metal band from Norway has a Pink Floyd cover (of a song from their second album, no less!) in it makes me really, really happy. The music itself is as you'd expect after reading this review: Focused on ambient more than anything else, simplistic and repetitive, but if you see this as a bad thing, you obviously haven't heard the original song (or liked it, for that matter). I think it's not just one of the most original covers I've heard in the realms of metal, it's actually a pretty fucking great rendition.
All in all, this album is in no way similar to anything else these guys have ever done, it's slower, more tame, and extremely experimental, and it's hard to imagine they'll ever go back to the familiar style they've been playing up until now. We'll just have to get used to it or stop caring, which is what most people will do anyway, assuming they're not idiots who will constantly cry and moan about something they can't change. This album has a lot of merit to it, not just because the guys had the balls to create such a thing, but because most of the album is actually quite good by it's own means. The only aspects I can really criticize about this album are the Celtic Frost-esque influences which take over the spotlight in a couple of songs, reminding me more of a death-doom project than a black metal band, and the fact that there seems to be a lot of lost potential for a seriously great album, which was wasted for the sake of experimentation.
This album is not, I repeat, it's NOT for those who expect some kind of second coming of the "saviours of the norwegian black metal scene". I'm sorry but that part of this band's story seems to be over for good. Now try and embrace the new direction, or just listen to the ever-increasing number of talented bands that to this day keep coming up with great and at the same time innovative black metal.
Originally written for the paper version of the Terror Cult Zine