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What else can one say about Mr. Mikko Aspa? The Voice of the last decade’s most praised blackmetal name, once again takes its distance from Hasjarl’s coven and reforms as the Clandestine Blaze entity, through which he concentrates on reminding us in the most emphatic way what this special subgenre was, is and will be about.
So, “Harmony Of Struggle” starts from where the previous release (“Falling Monuments”) of the maniac Finnish left us, with its threatening intro just foretelling the attack that will follow and conquer all, at least for the first half part of the record. “White Corpse” has a Darkthrone-like title and a relevant, aggressive and monolithic structure; it sets its claws upon the listener from the very first second and never lets him until its end. On the other side, the abyssic “Myth Turned Alive” causes everything to sink into its darkness with its obsessively low tempo as well as the ominous, acoustic mid-part.
However, it is when we reach somewhere around mid-point (from “Messiah Of The Dying World” and onwards) where mighty Mikko plays his heaviest cards. And this of course is his amazing perception of a conceptual musical current that makes each track to flow into the next one, creating a sense of continuity for the listener, who feels completeness equal to that of a good film. The sequence of [”Messiah For The Dying World" – closing with "ut quid, Domine, recessisti longe?" psalm – “Wings Οf Τhe Archangel" with the devastating riffs and the drums pounding straight against your chest - "Memento Mori II" whispers – elegy of "Autumn Of Blood And Steel" (candidate for best Clandestine Blaze track ever)] is nothing less than the quintessence of black metal, translated into notes. The fact that this is happening in 2013 without sounding ridiculously retro or horribly modern, is one of the unexplainable riddles of our times.
There would be much more to write about an individual who, instead of playing the role of the scene leader (which he could justifiably do unlike some other “satyrs” of today), remains faithful to the principles of uncompromising underground, releasing his works on his own (through Northern Heritage), without unnecessary words or multiple presses in different colors with limitiations and the rest of that bullshit. However, just one word (yet such a strong one!) I think is enough for our case: RESPECT
orginally written for:
Clandestine Blaze is a rather obscure band from Finland. It seems that the last several albums are released almost in secret, as news spreads so slowly and not much is mentioned about them. Even on Mikko's own Northern Heritage website, the mention of his latest release is usually buried in with everything else, with no special attention given to it. So it is no surprise that, despite the album being released in May 2013, I am just now learning of the existence of Harmony of Struggle.
Thankfully, fans of Clandestine Blaze were not subjected to another four-year waiting period, as before. Especially since the last two albums, Church of Atrocity and Falling Monuments, were mediocre when compared to the Mikko's earlier works. As such, expectations for this record were rather low. This was a good thing, as it led to somewhat of a pleasant surprise to find that this collection of songs seems a bit more inspired and coherent than the last couple of releases.
Past albums from Clandestine Blaze have been characterized by somewhat odd production jobs, yet Harmony of Struggle sounds much less awkward and possesses a better sound than its immediate predecessor, in particular. Whereas the last record was distorted in the wrong ways, enough to negatively affect the overall atmosphere, this effort is instantly more pleasing to the ears. The guitar tone is powerful and raw, with no excess irregularities in the sound. At times, it hearkens back to Night of the Unholy Flames and Fist of the Northern Destroyer, especially during the faster parts. The drums are at just the right level, rather than pounding on top of everything. The percussion is more blunt, rather than possessing the hollow and distracting sound that was present on some previous albums. The vocals sound nearly identical to most of the band's previous works. Mikko's voice has always been deeper than most standard black metal vocals, and buried just enough to allow the guitar melodies to be the primary focus but still high enough to be easily discernable.
Musically, this is definitely the strongest work to be released under the Clandestine Blaze name in nearly a decade. The songwriting is much more cohesive and the addition of eerie keyboards, from time to time, really accentuates the riffs and the overall feel of the tracks in a positive way. While Fallen Monuments was a step up from Church of Atrocity, in some aspects, the poor production was really detrimental and the whole thing was rather forgettable. However, Harmony of Struggle is makes much more of an impact from the very first moments of "Memento Mori". This morbid intro sets the tone for what is to come, somewhat reminiscent of Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice from Deathspell Omega. This leads into the intense "White Corpse", which is a fast-paced track that belongs among the better Darkthrone-inspired pieces that Clandestine Blaze has produced. Mikko always excelled when he went for the more straightforward songs that featured tremolo riffs over fast and primitive drumming. "Messiah for the Dying World" and "Wings of the Archangel" also follow this pattern, though the former also includes a more Celtic Frost-derived mid-section and a slower ending. While certainly influenced by the sort of riffs present on Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, he has always managed to add his own unique take that made his band stand out among the legions of clones. Slower songs, such as "Myth Turned Alive" and "Autumn of Blood and Steel" possess more power and add a bit more of a morbid feeling to things, with the latter being book-ended by two more instrumentals.
Harmony of Struggle features some memorable songwriting and is quite a solid album. With that said, it still lacks the severely eerie and darkened feel of Deliverers of Faith. It would appear that, in retrospect, that record was an anomaly within the discography of Clandestine Blaze, as Mikko has never before or since produced something with such a nightmarish feeling. Perhaps, it is unfair to compare all subsquent works to that one. So, to ignoring that, it would be safe to say that this new record is the best thing he has done in the past ten years or so. It may be lacking something, similar to recent efforts from Horna and Sargeist, but this is a worthy listen and should please fans of Clandestine Blaze or Finnish black metal, in general.