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Baptism’s fourth full-length album, titled ”As The Darkness Enters”, came as quite a surprise to me. Though the previous three full-lengths clearly indicated a curve of increasing sophistication and development, just as the rawness of the music decreased and the strength of its expression of hatred diminished and lost importance in the equation, this fourth album came across as a far cry from what I had considered to be according to the band’s aesthetics. Part of that impression might be explained by the fact that perhaps the quirkiest song of the album, “Esoteric Spheres”, was chosen to be the advance track. The softened, smoothened guitar tone, less distorted than ever, is most painfully apparent in the quasi-progressive verse riffs of that song, an effect which is more reminiscent of later Enslaved than genuine black metal. When the track list was released, the inclusion of the excellent “Chalice Of Death” (previously released on the eponymous EP) lifted my expectations – at least one brilliant track would be included, and at best, most of the album would be in similar spirit: raw, fairly spiteful and, at times, strongly wistful and melancholic. Ultimately, it turned out that these songs combined gave an excellent indication of what “As The Darkness Enters” would be: these two songs portray certain extremes of the music’s range, and most of the album's material is situated somewhere in the awkward middle ground, where musical greatness is often tarnished by overly sterile sounds and poorly conceived experimental elements. Overall, the album certainly required some degree of familiarity before comprehensive appreciation of the music was possible for me. Despite having become somewhat sandpapered to the overall scheme after several listens, “Esoteric Spheres” still remains a sore thumb. It has become somewhat recessed and less disruptive – as have all other parts of the album with similar shortcomings – and finally, time has allowed the greatness of this album to shine in full. Since my appreciation for earlier Baptism has been established, this review shall focus on the reasons why ”As The Darkness Enters” failed to live up to its predecessors.
The greatest fault in this album is the inorganic production. It renders everything limp and shallow that should be potent and profound. It’s perhaps designed with the album’s softer and moodier passages in mind, as the weaker sound lends itself appropriately to the mellow, wistful passages on the album, but as the sounds fail to produce any contrast for that, the album’s character is dominated by the mellowness. Likewise, the dichotomy of hard and soft hurts the songwriting – though the softer passages are adequately written and pleasant, they make a poor fit in the otherwise fast pace of the music. Baptism’s prior recordings all featured a dark, murky sound, in particular the debut “The Beherial Midnight”. Though it was gradually smoothened, it remained relatively consistent until this album. Although “Grim Arts of Melancholy” was quite clean compared to its predecessors, it still maintained a deep, sinister sound, and the “Chalice of Death” EP featured a most delightfully organic, natural sound. Two years after “Chalice of Death”, everything was changed. The fast passages, where the album should flex its muscles and show its power, are considerably hindered by the smoothness and lack of resonance of the sound, and the framework of black metal that still remains renders the mellower passages somewhat graceless and inappropriate.
There isn’t nearly as much rage and hateful passion in the music as there used to be, and unfortunately the production definitely helps in rounding those more aggressive edges, not unlike with later Enslaved. After the introductory song come “Bringer Of Misery” and “Chalice of Death”, both of which belong to the more violent side of the album. The first song proper beings promisingly with a beautiful tremolo riff and blast beats. This is followed by a fairly typical melancholic Baptism verse with Sarcofagian’s strangely pained-sounding vocals, until a palm-muted rhythm guitar line is introduced. At this point, the softness of the album’s production becomes the most apparent, as well as the fact that the music here departs from the unprogressive standards a band like Baptism – deliberately or not – has set for itself. As “Bringer of Misery” gradually unfolds, it becomes clear that the focus of this album is the beautiful, ethereal and sorrowful aspects of Baptism’s music. Though blast beats and tremolo-picked riffs hold certain inherent strength, only a small portion of the riffing conveys anything above the intensity level of mellow melancholy. Even in “Chalice of Death”, the beauty and sorrow in the music becomes much more pronounced in this album’s context – this is definitely not a negative attribute in itself, but arguably the juxtaposition of beauty and aggression is what makes the former so powerful in black metal. Here they're gone just slightly too far from being balanced. It hardly works to the song’s advantage, and thought the riffs are quite inspired, it’s one of the less convincing songs of “As The Darkness Enters”, whereas in its eponymous EP release form, it’s an utterly brilliant song. One can only wonder what greatness some other material on this album could’ve achieved were the production somewhat more appropriate for black metal.
What redeems Baptism’s transition into mellower territories is the passion. Though the music seems to exist in a rather awkward combination of soft and harsh elements, which is generally a solution that hurts black metal considerably, “As the Darkness Enters” has a certain legitimacy to it. The production may be hollow and plastic, but there’s still some fire in Sarcofagian’s riffing. While there are insipid, banal elements, interestingly they are rarely in the luminous, soothing passages. Even though compromised, “As the Darkness Enters” is still a genuine Baptism record, and thus worth listening to.
From Tampere, Finland comes Baptism and their fourth and most recent effort, 'As the Darkness Enters.' Seen mainly as the solo project of Lord Sargofagian whom has history with notable bands, such as; Behexen and Uncreation's Dawn as well as lesser known entities like, Trotzreich, Black Death Ritual and Calvarium -- He is however joined by a full line-up and a host of guest musicians on this outing. All four records have also been released via Northern Heritage Records, which is a bastion of quality in the black metal universe.
From the get go the 'Introduction' draws the listener into a world of gloom and wickedness as discordant distant voices and ominous synth notes guide me directly into 'Bringer of Misery.' This being my first experience with the band it becomes obvious enough that Baptism bares similarities to other Finnish cult black metal acts, such as, Horna, Behexen and Sargeist through their raw tones, mid-paced to speedy pacing, occasionally melodic structures and a true journey through crepuscule depravity.
The aforementioned 'Bringer of Misery' is a boisterous piece of black metal filled with stunning riffs, grimly delivery vocals (also briefly spoken) and exceptional drumming, whereas 'Chalice of Death' is more high octane and hard hitting with a sense of thrashiness as its back bone. 'The Prayer' although unleashing in a similar manner at the onset the song eventually becomes increasingly melancholic and slower in pace with some creeping bass licks making their presence well known. The highlight of the song being the cleanly sung parts performed by Mynni "Infection" Luukkainen, which are both haunting and beautiful whilst paired with the depressing keyboards and the riff that follows them it makes for an overwhelming piece of music. Just outstanding. 'Sieluni Temppeli' is the only song sung in Finnish, but its also a memorable one with its epic structure and sense of passion it sticks out amongst the others. The remaining three songs are all above average as well with very little if anything being weak on this record.
With 'As the Darkness Enters' being my first foray into the world and mind of Lord Sargofagian and Baptism I've constantly found this record to be steller and amongst one of the best from last year. If you've somehow overlooked this band I'd have to only suggest rectifying that situation as soon as possible.
Originally wrote for, Lunar Hypnosis: http://lunarhypnosis.blogspot.com
In the beginning, three tribes inhabited the vast frozen northern landscapes. The first lived along endless fjords, constantly swept by wind and rain; the second lived by the sea and made sacrifices in the name of terrible bloody infernal gods; and the third one prefered lakes and forests, separated from the other two by an incomprehensible language. Each of these tribes had developed its own rituals, with particular themes. Nature, cold and death for one; demons, blood and suffering for the other; black magic, shamanism and occultism for the last. Passage of time gradually faded the original differences, but their essence remained.
This allegory came to my mind when I discovered Finnish band Baptism’s new album. Even after all these years of listening to black metal, stylistic nuances specific to each national Scandinavian scenes always appear obvious to me. While Norwegians are more likely to celebrate their harsh climate, Swedes are incorrigible Satanists and Finns are rather mystical, and As The Darkness Enters constitutes a new evidence of these observations. This fourth album launched by Lord Sargofagian (instruments, vocals) indeed draws its inspiration from his own tribe occult hymns.
Right from the brief introduction, band draws us into its dark but surprisingly melodic universe. Compositions are indeed marked by a desire to create environments both harsh and melancholic, thanks to discreet keyboards and long high notes’ guitar sequences. Interpretation is also excellent for all instruments, especially drums, where rhythm changes are well done, both frantically on The Prayer and trashy on Chalice of Death. But my heart goes out to Sieluni Temppeli (« the temple of my mind »), sung in Finnish, a wonderfully agglutinative language. The main riff of this title is simply beautiful and its final incantation with its heavy rock air is brilliant. Rest of the album is to match and it is difficult for me to identify any major defects.
Baptism lacks the notoriety of some other members of its tribe, such as Beherit, Behexen, Horna or Sargeist, but it certainly has the same qualities. As The Darkness Enters is an excellent Finnish black metal record, which demonstrates a genuine concern for song writing and interpretation. Get it to enhance your next occult celebration's atmosphere. Demonic appearance guaranteed!
Originally written for Métal Obscur.