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Here it is then, this prototypical, subgenre-defining slice of violent, professionally produced Swedish black metal, the EP which was both an announcement of this band's entry into the scene as well as an essential document (along with 1996's 'The Secrets of the Black Arts') of that sound, the clean, no-frills, hyperspeed version of black metal which I have to come to absolutely loathe in the years after this record's release. This is an essential document/recording, however, because it has influenced so many bands - hundreds upon hundreds, one is led to believe.
And truth be told, it's not that bad, not at all. It doesn't really say anything new, but it provided an avenue (or opened a path) for bands who wanted a more sparkling and fresh alternative from the realm of the necro, and so many bands have gone down that path now that it seems like Dark Funeral hit upon something new themselves: that black metal could be 'professional', it could be well-produced, one could hear all the instruments on the recording, and the entire tone of a band's release could be geared towards an audience that was used to the sound of Swedish death metal releases...
The music is not iconoclastic, and in my ears it seems routine, almost trite and reticent in its unwillingness to incorporate anything creative... but one also has to remember that it was 1994 when this came out, and the black metal scene at that time was undergoing a cataclysmic series of changes... many bands were turning towards more 'commercial' sounds, if not in the music itself then in their production values. Besides, this band has never really been about originality.
Much like their close competitors and fellow pillars of the Swedish scene, Marduk, this band makes it extremely difficult to hear differences between their songs.. after a while it just all tends to blend together, and the production, with its vanilla wafer, sterile aesthetics, does not help matters. But if you listen close enough, the differences are there... I mean: there is a lot of music that speeds past the consciousness, buried under the squeaky clean guitar sound.
Ultimately this is just extremely listenable, it goes down easy, without really snagging on any of one's biases or preconceptions, and in that capacity one would think it had the ability to draw disparate segments of the scene together. Didn't it, after all? Who really hates Dark Funeral? Who has ever been offended by Dark Funeral? For me, now, this re-release is interesting mainly because it pits the production sounds of the two largest/most well-known Swedish studios and producers against each other... with the EP proper, it is Swano and Unisound (I blame Swano for the 'clean' sound in black metal production circles, may he be damned) and with the bonus tracks included on this disc (two Bathory covers) it is Tagtgren and the Abyss studios, the recordings being done in '94 and '96, respectively. As so, once again this record, in its re-release, becomes indicative of the larger musical movements within Sweden. From Unisound to the Abyss - that was the progression, wasn't it?
I will say that the Bathory covers done here ('Equimanthorn' - yes, one of the most 'influential' black metal songs of all time - and 'Call From The Grave', both from 'Under the Sign of the Black Mark') are excellent, really top-notch and professional in their planning, playing and recording. 'Call From The Grave' is especially good... when it comes down to the moving solo in the latter part of the song, the theme/progression of which is based on a popular funeral air, the playing is focused and tight, and done with obvious respect. Inspiring.
Other noteworthy bonuses in the re-release: the great new cover art, done by Necrolord, of Levi's enthroned Baphomet, in purple, black, and white tones (I would love to have a poster of this), and the pictures in the lyric booklet, which are supposedly from Dark Funeral's 'personal collection'.
So, in any case, you know what this album is, you know if you want it... I would suggest at least picking it up and listening to it if you are unaware of this band's history, or the tremendous impact they have had on European black metal.
Dark Funeral was formed in 1993, by Blackmoon and Lord Ahriman. Blackmoon had already founded the Satanic Death Metal band, Necrophobic, releasing The Nocturnal Silence. Joined by Themgoroth and Draugen, the band entered Dan Swanö's Hellspawn/Unisound Studios to record the Dark Funeral E.P.
"Open the Gates" begins this debut release with hellish fury, before going into a very oldschool section. Blackmoon's riffs, as always, have a very nocturnal feeling to them. Themgoroth's vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Hat (of Gorgoroth). While being executed in a different style, this really does create the same kind of atmosphere as Necrophobic.
"Shadows Over Transilvania" features some brilliant tremolo riffs and a sinister atmosphere that is only accentuated by Themgoroth's vocal performance. There are a handful of tempo changes, with the song slowing down a bit, near the end. This Swedish cult is definitely rooted in the older bands.
"My Dark Desires" continues the Satanic assault. One notices that the production os a lot closer to that of Marduk's Those of the Unlight. Perhaps the EP would have sounded even better if they had managed to get the same sound that Dissection did on The Somberlain (which was recorded at the same studio). About half-way through the song, the pace slows down and the melodies really take you into the night sky, beyond the realm of the living. Themgoroth's infernal vocals can be considered nothing less than a demonic possession captured on tape.
This final song opens with some of the best riffs of the album, melodies that will remain with you long after the song has concluded. "In the Sign of the Horns" expresses the desire to go from the world of light and to be embraced by darkness, for ever. As can be said for the rest of the album, the cold nocturnal melodies wrap around your throat and the hellish vocals summon forth the dark lord.
"In the sign of the horns
Come and take my life
In the sign of the horns
I must die"
Believe it or not, Dark Funeral was once a good band, prior to making music only to please the masses and having a rockstar mentality. This E.P. is absolute proof of the band's worth, in the long-forgotten past. If you have only been exposed to those later recordings, you owe it to yourself to seek this E.P. out. For that matter, it is recommended that you also listen to The Secrets of the Black Arts, as well. Beyond these two releases, consider the band irrelevant.
Dark Funeral have never been a band to say they are original. They aren't, but unlike a lot of bands of this nature, they have spirit. They know what they want to do and do it. The material presented on here is the best this band has ever written. The guitars are fast, speed picked, but also with a lot of melody to them. Drums are mostly either blast beats or slower, more doomy, but still are good, and not sloppy or anything. The vocals are demonic, really tortorous, and they fit perfectly with all the chaos going on on this.
Really, there isn't much more for me to say about this album. The songs are all fast, with slower parts incorporated into them. Open the Gates is definately the standout track on here, or In the Sign of the Horns, with it's very ominous opening riff.
This is a very promising start for this band. Although with the full length, Secrets of the Black Arts, things would become a little too monotonous for me. Buy this now.