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There is always a level of strangeness and eccentricity to any innovative album, but of all the releases to truly capture the spirit of black metal’s 2nd wave, this is by far the strangest. What is heard on here could be summed up as a sort of warped celebration of the occult through the medium of a hybrid of death/doom and black metal with some heavy ambient overtones. There could be a level comparison to the later pre-ambient works of Burzum, but the drastic contrast in vocal expression and melodic tendencies make that connection distant at best.
One could see this as a transition work between the purer, death influenced black metal that Beherit put forth on their earlier works and their later ambient albums, but this would downplay the greatness and significance of this album in itself. It’s one of those albums that are often misunderstood simply because there is no real precedent to measure it against. Whoever would account for a younger version of Hellhammer meets a much angrier and morose version of Tangerine Dream would probably be accused of belonging to splinter cult of Rastafarianism dedicated to worshiping the ganja in itself.
The greatest charm of this creepy opus is its utter simplicity. Any concept of flash, flair, or technical showmanship is absent, making way for an entirely riff based formula that emphasizes a dark atmosphere and a vocally distorted series of free verse narrations. Most of the guitar lines are further simplified than even the proto-Black works on the Bathory debut, to the point of resembling the primitiveness of early Black Sabbath. Combine with this a noise driven guitar sound that is comparable to what Electric Wizard would put out a couple years later, dense as hell vocal tracking and some off kilter keyboard sections and you have the makings of one strange as hell trip through Bacchus’ sub-conscious.
While not exactly the most accessible combination of elements, there is definitely a catchiness element to many of these songs. “Nocturnal Evil” goes through several passages of blasting, muddy chaos, but the riff that comes out when things calm down a little is heavily distinctive, containing a definite proto-Thrash vibe to it. Doom driven slower chapters like “Sadomatic Rites” and “The Gate Of Nanna” offer up the same memorable and highly repetitious riffs, but without the chaotic Death Metal sections surrounding them and a stronger vocal presence. The latter song really gives off a strong “Master Of Reality” vibe during its principle riffs, laying back in this gravely slow groove, steeped in a series of muttered heathen chants that are themselves drenched in odd vocal layering and effects.
The album consistently maintains this death/doom dichotomy of chaotic, muddy passages and slow, loose fitting 3-4 chord riffs through most of the album, switching up varying amounts of vocal oddities and production quirks with masterful precision. The winner in the aggression department is a sort of toss up between “Down There…” and “Saloman’s Gate”, both of which put forth ultra guttural vocal deliveries that rival the tyrannosaurus sound Nocturno Culto pulled off on “Soulside Journey”. Though the latter song throws in a series of slower atmospheric and melodic passages, while the former remains fast and chaotic the entire time and is much shorter. “Werewolf” also ratchets up the aggression, but has an ultra catchy intro riff and loads up on the echo vocal effects, sounding like a growling canine trapped in a cavern with its growls bouncing off its jagged walls.
The ambient parts of this album are kept down to a largely reserved level here in comparison to Burzum and are more often mixed in with the complete black metal songs, with a few notable exceptions. The most auspicious of these is “Summerlands”, which goes through this sort of aboriginal pan flute intro with a gong going every few seconds and the sounds of wildlife in the background. I’m not sure what got laced in with the ganja used during this composition session, but I want some so I can experience the metaphysical experience of going from the cold climate of Finland to the doorstep of an Incan temple. The album opener “Intro” is a little less out there and sounds pretty similar to the startup music to “Halloween 3” with dark incantations narrated through a microphone thrown on top.
If you like to experience the rare sensation of getting high on an album, without the need of any chemical additives, “Drawing Down The Moon” is about as close as you can get to the real thing. If you really want to creep yourself out, listen to it for the first time through a high end car stereo system while driving home at 3am the way I did. But in all seriousness, this is something that is utterly essential once you understand where it’s coming from. An acquired taste some may say, but those tastes tend to be the most treasured because they are shared with few people and earned through genuine effort.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 9, 2009.