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Yes, we've all seen it before – a once incredible band takes a nosedive in quality and proves itself unable to recover, settling for a level somewhere just above average. Behexen has a history of releasing their albums with a most moderate pace – an even one, but frustratingly slow for the zealous fan. However, aside from the incredible EP set from 2008, titled "From the Devil's Chalice", every single one released after I was introduced to this band has been remarkably disappointing. "My Soul For His Glory" was painfully forgettable and unexciting, if ultimately well crafted and enjoyable. It was followed by the lacklustre Satanic Warmaster split, which might've foreshadowed a future direction similar to Sargeist of the same era – very melodic, even excessively so – and while a part of me was satisfied that the following full-length was innocent of excess sappiness, ultimately the result was perhaps even more dissatisfying. "Nightside Emanations" is completely unmoving and without merit apart from a small portion of greatness.
With the recently joined Finnish black metal legend Shatraug in the band and a history of both extremely succesful and quite unsatisfying albums to have taught these musicians what things they can make work, and what not, "Nightside Emanations" could've been the album that set it all right again. Indeed, they clearly learned from some mistakes they had made on the previous album; yet "Nightside Emanations" is abundant in completely wrong decisions of different kinds. It's austere, grim and unhospitable, but it's also devoid of energy and passion. The first two albums had copious amounts of incredibly ugly, raw riffing, but they were mostly counterpointed with clever melodies or relentlessly catchy riffs – something like a Finnish countryside version of Gorgoroth's best years. This album's guitars are as muddy as they are uncreative, and while the once so vibrantly energetic drumming occasionally awakens from the slumber it fell into somewhere in early 2008, the majority of the album comprises clinical, run-of-the-mill performances of uninspired black metal. The raw, trebly sound of past could've done wonders to the album, but even if "Nightside Emanations" sounded like "By The Blessing...", it could never mask the gaping void in inspiration that this album embellishes in almost every minute of its 50 minutes duration.
What seems to be happening to Behexen is perhaps somewhat similar to what Gorgoroth went through. Decreased songwriting input from the ones originally responsible for the band's greatness is a likely explanation due to the lineup changes Behexen has gone through since their golden years. The philosphy behind the music has seemingly changed, aswell, to something considerably less genuine. The focus seems to be chiefly on imagery and satanism, whereas it should've been on the music. "Nightside Emanations" is, as a whole, even more forgettable and insubstantial than its predecessor, and where "My Glory..." was still enjoyable to listen to in its entirety, this one gets quite irritating with its unrelenting tedium. The most irritating aspect is the band's newfound fascination with creating some manner of satanic ritualistic metal music. Where "Wrathful Dragon..." and "Death's Black Light" are merely forgettable, try-hard aggressive black metal songs, "Circle Me" and "Temple of the Silent Curses" irritate the fuck out of anyone peering into this for the sake of hearing excellent riffing and actual black metal passion. The atmosphere Behexen went for with these quasi-religious songs was certainly one that is meant to put the listener in a trace of sorts, but the only trance thus delivered is one of utter boredom. It's bewildering how the band responsible for incredibly sinister, doomy songs like "Watchers of My Black Temple" could release something as half-conceived as this, especially considering the album's sterile production that works directly against conveying atmosphere of any kind. Where did the skill to convey the atmosphere of utter desolation and impending destruction go, and how did they lose their ability to musically portray that destruction in all its unhinged intensity?
Unsurprisingly, the album's strongest points are the songs that seem the least preoccupied with religion. "We Burn with Serpent Fire", the advance track, features some brilliantly dark tremolo riffs and those endearingly reckless blasting drums Behexen used to be known for. The intro riffs to "Awaken Tiamat" remind the listener that this band was once miles above the average group of Swedish orthodox three-chord black metal hacks. With approppriate production, this would've been a fantastically evil, melodic and sinister song. "Luciferian Will" brings to mind the more pronounced Gorgoroth influences of the past, setting it clearly apart from the majority of material on this album by the virtue of having excellent riffs. Unfortunately, Behexen has all but completely quit carrying that torch, which is a mistake of gigantic proportions, as their personal style made it all sound interesting and immensely enjoyable again. Their earlier works, even when flourishing with melodies, were darker and more atmospheric than the one-dimensional, overproduced tripe that comprises the majority of this album. Two or three songs on "Nightside Emanations" show that the band is still capable of writing great material (and these individual songs are greatly superior to anything on the evenly placid "My Soul..."), but some incomprehensible preoccupation with imagery, or an ever diminshing amount of these great ideas, that seemingly takes priority over creative songwriting prevents the album from being good in its entirety. It's worth hearing for the sake of "Luciferian Will" and "Awaken Tiamat", but other than those brief glimpses into past glory, little of this album is genuinely worthwhile.