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From the beginning, I had approached the 3rd full-length by Norwegian Occult Black Metallers Dodsengel with a sense of urgent trepidation. While I had enjoyed earlier releases like Mirium Occultum and Alongside Chronzon immensely, reveling in the winding, mazelike riffs that rarely failed to transport one into a realm of omniscient dread, the songwriting had always felt a tad derivative for a band with such grandiose vision for their infernal doctrine. As Dodsengel constantly strove to distinguish themselves from the masses of black metal acolytes following the release of Mirium Occultum, plunging themselves deeper and deeper into less traditional waters with EP after EP, I could not help but feel that an additional push from Below was needed to propel them into the realms of true Orthodox triumph, alongside charred scene luminaries such as Deathspell Omega, Watain, and Ascension. When Imperator finally surfaced upon my metallic radar, I could not help but feel my blood boil at the thought that the breakthrough album this band was always meant to make had possibly ascended from the Pits of Tartarus in all its fetid glory.
After multiple listens and subsequent internal contemplation, I am able to safely conclude that Dodsengel have reached their vaunted potential at last, at least in part. Clocking in at 2 and ½ hours in two discs, Imperator is not an album meant for the weekend warrior or Cro-Magnon headbanger looking for a quick blackened fix. Indeed, I found this album an intimidating beast to digest at the onset, and was initially befuddled at the seeming monotony stretched over such a vast length. Gone were even semblances of the forward-driving grooves and wicked hooks that once helped latch listeners onto the sides of past demonic vessels. Instead, there existed a dreamlike, astral sense of torment that tempted the listener to their own damnation. The ritualistic aspects of the music were more heightened than ever, proceeding with a stately grace befitting an infernal monarch leading his slaves to the sacrificial altar.
Indeed, listening to Imperator was more reminiscent of a waking nightmare than a wild hellride, an experience aided by the increased presence of synthesizers, a contribution that added a psychedelic rock presence to the music that had only been hinted at structurally on earlier efforts. Like Pink Floyd hollowed into a vessel of the Devil, Imperator took me deep into emotional and contemplative chasms while my body stood fixated in petrifaction. Every additional listen revealed more crevices along the blood-soaked walls of the temple. Over most of the experience, Kark’s vocals rasped like the grinding of dry, crackling bones along desert sands, imbuing the ritual with a feeling of hopeless desolation. Yet at parts of the album, they warped into maddening high-pitched shrieks that brought to mind the raving of dementia-ridden hierophants. Female vocals even made an appearance, soaring like the reveries of harlots and witches over the music, evoking a sense of ecstatic and diabolically-lustful exuberance.
While I initially felt that Imperator lacked the immediate black-mailed fist to the gut provided by past works, it became obvious to me as I explored the album more that it marked a true turning point in Dodsengel’s career, in the same way that Si Monumentum was the cornerstone in Deathspell Omega’s that transformed them from well-composed Darkthrone-worship into one of the most revolutionary bands to ever grace the face of the genre. The unique psychedelic presence added by the increased use of synthesizers, coupled with a usage of archetypical orthodox-styled riffs in unorthodox ways, have created for Dodsengel an easily distinguishable sound that they can truly trademark as their own. Some standout tracks include Hymn to Pan, a trance-inducing ritual with bacchanalian undertones belying an antediluvian madness hidden beneath the veil of civility, Asphyxia, a highly emotional affair resembling a crueler, more primal manifestation of the work of Frenchmen Blut Aus Nord, and Upon the Beast She Rideth, a work that evoked the sensual, yet sinister aura of Walpurgisnacht.
Yet Imperator’s greatness comes as more of a sum of its parts than in individual moments of glory, for what the album represents is an expulsion of every experimental and creative desire Dodsengel have only tempted us with in the past 3 years, yet somehow taking a coherent and masterful form. With their artistic vision now clear to them, I feel that future efforts by this band will see not only further sonic advances, but a tightening of those remaining loose ends in their songwriting as well. Imperator is a staggering, yet enticing work that sheds fresh blood upon the long-stagnating Norwegian Black Metal Scene. While other bands continue to obsess over childish clichés in nostalgic striving for past glories, Dodsengel represents one of the chosen few who have dared to glance further into the darkness, emerging with an exciting vision for black metal that promises even greater aural flagellation in the coming aeons.