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The debut of this now legendary black metal act, Deathspell Omega has certainly come a long way from this. In more recent years, they have made some of the most haunting, challenging black metal ever made. Even on their second record 'Inquisitors Of Satan', Deathspell was playing an old school brand of black metal with some considerable proficiency. 'Infernal Battles' opens the band's career on a somewhat bleak note, and I do not mean that in a good way. Although nothing out of the ordinary for straightforward black metal, this is a very amateurish, poor sounding release, with inconsistent production, performance, and unremarkable songwriting. Although it certainly has its merits to it still, this is the only album in Deathspell Omega's catalog that I might label as 'bad'.
Musically speaking, 'Infernal Battles' is fairly average black metal, in the vein of bands like Mayhem. Of course, Deathspell Omega is coming a clean decade after those Norwegian heavyweights, so I cannot say much of the band in terms of innovation at this point. The music is filled with evil sounding chord progressions, tinny drums, and raspy vocals that sound garbled as hell, thanks to the low budget recording that the album has. Making the production worse is the fact that tracks 5-8 are actually the band's demo, 'Disciples Of The Ultimate Void'. Not a re-recording for the album, but an outright copy-and-paste of the demo onto here. The songwriting- which is very decent, although predictable- does not compensate for the total lack of tact the album has. Even at its best, 'Infernal Battles' still sounds like a garage production, but hearing it fluctuate so much makes for a pretty weak experience..
One positive thing I can mention about Deathspell Omega at this point is that even early on, they were very good musicians. This is an inherently untechnical sort of music that the band is playing, but they play it with a great intensity, and unlike many demos of this style that I have heard, there aren't slip-ups in the playing. Although this may be considered a full- length, it really does not feel as if Deathspell Omega's legitimate journey starts until the second album. This is generic, mediocre black metal with abysmal production values. Even so, it's a somewhat worthy venture for hardcore fans of the band, if only to see how much the band has progressed since their origin.
Deathspell Omega was formed by two members of Hirilorn, following the demise of that band. Rather than carry on the more epic and melodic sound of their previous project, the opted for a more straight-forward, raw approach. Their first full-length, Infernal Battles, was released in 2000 on Northern Heritage Records. The peculiar thing about this album is that it would have been better suited to have been released as an E.P. There are only four new songs, here, as the other four were taken straight from the Disciples of the Ultimate Void demo. The problem isn't that they re-used the material, but that there's such a disparity between the quality of the two halves. It makes it incredibly obvious that they are taken from different sessions. Also, there is speculation that former Hirilorn drummer, Yohann, performed the drums on the demo tracks. However, the new songs featured on Infernal Battles sound very much like a drum machine is being used, despite Shaxul being credited as the drummer.
The album begins with "The Victory of Impunity", which wastes no time going right for the throat. Immediately, one can get a sense of the trademark melodies of Deathspell Omega, always creating a great deal of tension. The urgent tone to the vocals increases this feeling. Shaxul sounds quite similar to Hat, from Gorgoroth, utilizing a raspy and high-pitched style. Musically, the early work of this band is often compared to old Darkthrone. They are usually credited as being among the best of the legions of clone bands, but it would seem that this negates the strong influence of early Gorgoroth, as one can really hear a lot of this in the melodic structure of the song. This is also noticed in the alternating thrash and tremolo riffs. That being said, the band was already forging a sound of their own, mixed in with these influences. It's just that, by this point, they hadn't fully realized their own style, so it was more like a work in progress.
"Drink the Devil's Blood" continues the fast-paced Black Metal assault that was present in the previous song. The opening melody is one of those that sounds familiar from the first time you hear it. Perhaps it is taken from elsewhere, but I can't put my finger on it. In this song, one can hear hints of what would come, but it's not quite realized here. The song would later be re-recorded, with completely different lyrics.
The next song is "Extinction of the Weak", which starts out like the previous songs. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the tremolo riffing is replaced by some open-arpeggio work. This gives the song more atmosphere and helps to differentiate it from the others. It also has a somewhat darker feeling. After a few minutes, its speeds up, with Shaxul sounding completely possessed. His screams almost remind one of his countrymate, Meyhna'ch. Lyrically, the whole album is drenched in themes of Satanism and blasphemy, yet it would appear that they turned their back on their earlier lyrics, as the reissue of this album has most of the lyrics censored, as if they were so inferior to the more Orthodox style of the band's later period.
"Sacrilegious Terror" is another fast-paced song, though the drumming is a bit more relaxed. As with the rest of the songs, it's dominated by fast tremolo picked riffs that flow through your brain, frozen and mournful. The song is rather dynamic, as there are a number of tempo changes throughout. Another brilliant melody is unleashed around the 3:00 mark, giving the feeling that the band really wanted to re-create "Maaneskyggens Slave", because that it what this sounds like. That's not a bad thing at all, and I find no fault in the lack of originality on the part of Hasjarl (presumably, the one responsible for most of the songwriting). After all, it is their first album.
The demo tracks begin with "Raping Human Dignity". As some have commented, the track does open with some sort of feedback that sounds like a ringing telephone. Whatever the case may be, the song is as solid as the previous four. The only difference is the drastic drop in sound quality. However, despite this, it is by no means the most terrible production one can expect to hear in the realm of Black Metal. To anyone that says that the guitar riffs aren't discernible, all I can say is that you must not be listening. As for the music, the main riff is a tremolo melody that sounds like something from an old Darkthrone album. It is true that far too many bands have attempted to capture the same cold, minimalist feeling that Darkthrone achieved on Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, but Deathspell Omega (even at this stage) stand out as being one of the better bands to follow this style. And, really, why should no one try to pick up from where they left off, since they abandoned that sound many years ago? It should be left to only the more skilled and musically adept bands, but it's not entirely impossible that someone could come close to doing it justice. It's just that most shitty bands mistake the low-fi sound of those albums to equate lack of skill (which is incredibly erroneous) and think that they can hide their own weaknesses by emulating that style, not realizing that it actually did take great skill in songwriting and that it's not something to be spewed out by every wannabe with a guitar. But, I digress.
The next song is "The Ancient Presence Revealed", which begins with a thrash riff, strangely. Actually, it's completely a rip-off of Darkthrone's "Blasphemer", from the Total Death album. This brings up a good point, as Deathspell Omega seemed to favour a guitar style that was quite similar to the sound on this album, back in their early days. What I mean is that you can hear the similarities in the very clean sound they used, at times. It's kind of odd, as not too many bands would look to a weak Darkthrone album for inspiration, but they certainly found something of worth, here. At any rate, the song transitions from the thrash riffs to the high-tension tremolo riffs that they were known for. Few guitarists manage to convey such a sense of urgency in their melodies, but Hasjarl does a hell of a job with this. As the track progresses, the temp changes a few more times, including a slower section that doesn't quite reach its atmospheric potential.
"Knowledge of the Ultimate Void" maintains the sense of tension and dread, though the song then goes more into the realm of Hellhammer influences, possibly filtered through Darkthrone. Late in the song, the pace slows down and the atmosphere becomes quite hellish, for a few moments. Unfortunately, they don't fully capitalize on this.
The album concludes with "Death's Reign (Human Futility)". While the production may be similar to the level of quality found on some of the Mütiilation demos, there are some nice epic melodies mixed in, though these do not dominate the song. Still, it maintains an identity separate from the others, though not quite as satisfying.
Ultimately, Infernal Battles is something better intended for those who appreciate old Darkthrone and Gorgoroth. It's not as good as the album that follows it, but it certainly isn't worthless as some pathetic losers seem to think it is. This was but the first step for this band, so it's naturally that they were struggling to find their own identity, while also trying to keep the black flame burning. No, there's nothing incredibly unique going on here, but they already displayed quite a bit of promise and would go on to prove themselves superior to many of the other bands so influenced by the Norwegian scene.
Preface: There are 2 different versions (cd and lp) which likely count for the discrepancies between reviews here. I have to admit, when listening to the mp3 versions of each, they do sound like night and day, and could be cause for confusion. Perhaps this is just a failing of the rippers or their equipment and not the media themselves. At this moment I do own a physical copy of the LP but I won't play it until I acquire a fine phonograph for which to play it on (perhaps only a laser turntable would suffice). Regardless, my review concerns both versions, the original 2000 LP and the 2003 re-release of this material to CD from Northern Heritage (Finland). Again, I have heard both in mp3 form, and can at least confirm that the mp3s ripped from the LP source are let down by the lack of good production, ripping equipment, or source material quality, but it is anyone's guess as to which, if not all, are responsible. What you end up with the LP version sounds extremely thin and raw, but in a distant and not-that-great sort of way (although still totally listenable in my mind, and kind of lends a strident quality to proceedings). The CD (rips) fixes this for tracks 1-4, apparently with re-mastering (of the source dubs I would imagine), or simply due to the easy digital conversion to mp3 which yielded more quality results. Whatever the cause, it certainly does an excellent job of filling out the music in a way that makes it sound there in the room with you, without sacrificing the original LP rips positive points of a raw, thin, or acerbic aesthetic quality (which is a welcomed thing as it doesn't suffer the bane of sounding too meaty or death metal like, as with DsO's later releases). One more interesting thing to note is the clear 10-20 second discrepancy in length between the LP and CD tracks on the mp3s I have (scene ripped from berc for the LP and fff for the CD). From my constant observation between the two, it appears as if the CD is sped up slightly, or perhaps, again, due to less than stellar equipment berc was using, the LP rips were incrementally slowed down. From this perspective, I do have to favor the LP rips... but again I can't quantify the real reason for this discrepancy.
The other acknowledgment I must make for the sake of this review, is that it is likely most of the reviewers here do not actually own a physical copy of the album, much less the original LP considering its scarcity. That said, one more reason for the confusion and wide discrepancy among reviews, in my estimation, is that the majority of mp3s of Infernal Battles currently in circulation are ripped from the original LP source (I have done some verifying of my own to substantiate this claim in case you were wondering... and virtually no one with the mp3s makes the distinction between versions with folder, track, or tag labeling). This is far and away the most likely explanation for the variance in opinion on sound quality (especially if there is indeed no real discernible difference between the physical copy versions). Also, it should be understood that for 3 years the LP was the only source for the rip. I can easily understand why no one would bother re-ripping the CD version if A. a shitty version was already in circulation and thus demand for it was low as a result, and B. there wasn't (and still isn't) a whole lot in the way of information on the net about varying quality between the releases (or mp3s in circulation without tags or notations which give the listener a point of reference on the media source). So, reader be warned... to keep this in mind when reading any review about this strange release.
I think the reader may see 85% as a generous grade for the moment, but by the time this review is over I hope it might actually considered fair, especially when taking into account how previous reviews haven't taken the proper time to dissect the impact of the varying of release versions and their oft traded rips. Now, despite what you may have heard from other sources about sound quality, this doesn't have a horrible "toilet" sound production, at least not on the first 4 tracks (which makes up the important half of this release). In fact, those of us who have been listening to black metal for more than just a couple years---10-15 years here---can tell you, really crappy productions were notoriously set to a low standard by anything Mayhem had done in their early formative years, especially demos, live performances and the countless bootlegs these were featured on. The fact is that this is a y2k disc folks; while that means it's not even older than Windows 98 or a 10 year old brat listening to Slipknot, it also means the songs contained there-in, tracks 1-4, sound fairly good. Lets not forget how well, production wise, albums of the time like Grand Declaration of War, IX Equilibrium, or Rebel Extravaganza sounded either. Obviously there are other likely influences on an UNKNOWN band to consider like budget, management, label, or artistic constraints. But it's all a bit beyond the scope of this review, so I'm not going to discuss it any further. Suffice it to say tracks 1-4 are totally listenable in terms of quality and production from my perspective.
Tracks 5-8 might sound like ultimate shit to newcomers, but the rest of us have heard much worse believe it or not. I would say, think of how something would sound recorded through an apartment wall, 1 room over. Yeah, it's bad, but there aren't any artifacts present really, unless you count the telephone ring sounding feedback at the beginning of each track from 5 on (heh). You can pretty much decipher vocal and guitars... more or less bass & percussion should be considered one entity. That said, the second half of Inernal Battles---their first demo---is not really enjoyable and I can see how after listening to SMRC, and material of this recorded caliber, it can set many listeners up for disappointment. This has to do with the fact that their first demo was recorded and released to tape, not in any attempt to come across "more grim" as so incompetently alluded to in previous reviews. If you really want an example of this type of charlatanism, see Mayhem's Ordo Ad Chao disc and compare it to their previous few albums.
As for the music found on Infernal Battles, I actually can't fault them for what they put out on tracks 1-4 (yes, again I'm giving each half its own paragraph here, or two). It's solid, methodical mid-to-fast paced blasting for the most part with some tempo changes and Frost-esque rock n roll type "breakdowns" and fills for good measure (Frost of Satyricon that is, so think Rebel Extravaganza once again, except this time for the album's positive aspect.... its drumming). Nothing too blindingly fast here, but very respectably handled percussion wise if you pay attention. The riffs are all deliberately tested, true and derivative sounding, but they aren't without charm or so done-to-death that they put you to sleep. In fact, they're done quite well that the charm is easily apparent on both the CD and LP versions.
Basically, the sound from the guitar tends to sway back and forth from 2 distinct forms (or 3 depending on how you look at it): 1. we have a guitar sound somehwere between wave 1 black metal (notably Celtic Frost/Hellhammer) and German-thrash (i.e. mid-to-fast paced galloping or chugging riffs), and 2. melodic tremolo riffing ala wave 2 black metal---think Judas Iscariot or Darkthrone's Transylvanian Hunger. This really makes for one positive black metal listening experience in my opinion, and a place around 85% is quite respectable if you consider how their later material rates on average. I, for one, prefer this tried and true black metal experience to the more, supposedly, "challenging" work of DsO's SMRC, though. While I admit tracks on that recording like the prayer songs, and what they tried to do on the whole, really appealed to me... I couldn't get past the needlessly thick production and low-pitched "gurgling watery shit" vocals which reminded me a bit of Gehenna's 'Murder' album (not a good thing for a black metal "opus"). At least with Gehenna's Murder there's no mistake or pretension about what you're getting into... *shrug*.
Tracks 5-8 really don't do anything for me at all considering their lack of quality in sound and song-writing. It all sounds like a freshman approach; a more chaotic and less refined version of the previous 4 tracks, which also happen to suffer from inferior sound production. Unfortunately for this release, it contains this demo and is considered by Northern Heritage to be their first "album". I think the first 4 tracks are strong enough to have been made into an EP without adding the demo; or at the very least someone responsible for the band's budget should have bankrolled studio time to re-record these tracks for the "album". This didn't happen, and the demo material is what really brings the percentage score of this release way down for many reviewers, in my estimation.
In my scoring, If I were to take each half and score from 50% each, I'd say 40% for tracks 1-4 and 5% for 5-8. That's only about 45% and it really hurts the first 4 tracks that seem to be the reason for this release. So I just treat this like a Mini LP with the bonus demo on the second side as I really don't consider appending the demo to the end of these 4 tracks by laying down the source recording to the same vinyl or cd as constituting a proper debut release. And that's really where the other discrepancy is on Infernal Battles in my opinion, as most people are likely judging it from the perspective of a debut album, which is inherently a mistake. I don't do that, and therefore I don't have to make that consideration in my scoring. So I double up the 40% for the first half, add 5% for the bonus demo material thrown in, and you have my score of 85% on this release. One thing I would also like to point out is that often demos do contain songs that end up on debut albums (that's obviously not a problem in of itself, see countless examples of how this works), but debut albums usually contain new recordings of these tracks. If anything, you could call this a compilation release... which makes Infernal Battles unique, if not downright confusing and complicated to review and score.
When all is said and done, I wholeheartedly recommend this as a download because it is a vile and dreadfully gruesome first release that is likely to please the fans of old school Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Celtic Frost, Sodom, etc. I would say the first 4 tracks are worthy of a buy even, but its doubtful you'll find this LP for any reasonable price... if you don't mind owning the cd, then it certainly is a buy for those of you who enjoy the aforementioned artists that inspired this release. Anyway, Infernal Battles, along with Inquisitors of Satan, is a symbol of an era of DsO's historical output that was once grounded and tributary of those who came before them. Glorious in its shimmering black grimitude™... Infernal Battles is all about infernal hails to the past.
Back in 2000, when this album was first recorded, not many people knew much, if anything about Deathspell Omega. They had already released one demo but apart from that, they were pretty much unheard of. There were people who actually took a gamble with this and picked this CD up, probably drawn in by their cool name and equally cool logo. However, in the words of Bart Simpson this album is "powerfully uncool."
When I first listened to this, it sounded a lot like everything was just all mashed together in terms of sound. This CD is in my top five for: "worst production". It really sounds like these guys decided to record this album on a 20 year old tape recorder (and a shitty tape recorder at that). To make matters worse, it sounds like the vocalist is in a different room to the rest of the band and he's screaming the lyrics through a walkie talkie down a microphone. Yep, it really does sound like that.
Apart from the bad production when I first the album it sounded a lot like this: ultra distorted guitars, distorted drums going WHAM WHAM WHAM BANG CRASH BANG and the walkie talkie vocals going ARRR ARRRRR ARRRRRR ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!! It wasn't really until my 5th listen that I was able to get through all the sound and distortion and actually listen to and appreciate the music.
It really wasn't that bad. I could actually begin to make out some words, riffs and see that the drums actually had some talent to them, rather than the guy just slamming down on them. It wasn't all that bad really, almost good. The riffs were cool and are catchy and they change around a lot. I could almost headbang to them, but it’s hard to headbang to when you've got such utterly fucked production. However to appreciate anything in this album means you'll have to listen to this album about 5 times. This means you to endure over 2 hours of what I described in the paragraph above. So in the end, is it really worth it? The answer is no.
I suggest anyone who likes black metal to get SMRC. It's a lot longer (so it’s worth more for your dollar) the album kicks ass and the production is worlds apart from this. These guys have talent and ideas but it really isn't worth it on this one.
Despite what some would have you believe, an album that sounds like it was recorded in a toilet through a walkie talkie is not automatically a classic. There has to be at least some substance to the music to make a good record. Whether that substance comes into being through good songwriting or creating atmosphere or anything else, you simply do not have a good record without it.
To get straight to the point, I'd rather jump off a tall building than listen to this album from start to finish. It has a few moments where you get a glimpse of what Deathspell Omega would become, but they are few and far between. It's simply not worth the effort to wade through the sea of noise to find them.
The production would make Nocturno Culto cringe in agony. Yes, it's that bad. To be fair, I'm not opposed to this kind of recording. I enjoy early Darkthrone and even a few of their clones, but this is utterly horrible.
I won't even bother to differentiate between the 'album' portion of this record and the 'demo' portion because they are both equally horrible.
If the point of this album was to inflict inhuman torture on the listener, then I suppose this record could be considered a success. Otherwise, it fails in every aspect.
The good news is that they made leaps and bounds between this recording and their next few releases. I would even go so far as to say that they revolutionized black metal with Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice. This, however, is an entirely different beast and should be avoided.
Start with any of the early splits or Inquisitors of Satan if you like raw black metal. Si Monumentum... and everything after are required listening for ANY fan of extreme metal.
Avoid this one unless you're looking for a headache, but there are more pleasant ways to get a headache.
After the split-up of Hirilorn two members from the band, Hasjarl and Shaxul, decided to start another band called Deathspell Omega. Hirilorn recorded some fresh and original sounding music. Although it didn’t knock your socks off it was still a decent listen and maybe with a bit of development they could have released some truly great music. Deathspell Omega’s “Infernal Battles” on the other hand blends in nicely with all the unoriginal marketable Black Metal of today’s terribly unexciting scene.
Production is raw. Guitars are heavily distorted. Drums are heavily distorted. Vocals are heavily distorted. Bass is probably heavily distorted buts it’s too low in the mix to even notice. Nothing about the production is special. The production gets worse on the second half of the album because it’s taken from their demo yet it still manages to fit together with the first half. It’s the kind of production you heard when Darkthrone started making music.
Remember Darkthrone? Of course you do because every 1 in 2 Black Metal albums released today sound like Darkthrone and this is one of the ones that sounds like Darkthrone. Actually the opening riff instantly reminds you of “Transylvanian Hunger”. Then the next riff sounds like old school Black Metal, think Celtic Frost. Then it’s back to Darkthrone riffs. The opening riff to “The Ancient Presence Revealed” sounds like straight up Thrash. The second half of this album that is their demo material is actually more fun to listen to then the first half, mainly because it has more variation and Thrashy parts.
“Infernal Battles” is a mix of mediocre Old School Black Metal riffs, Nu School Black Metal riffs and Thrash riffs. There’s no denying these guys can play their instruments and there’s no denying these guys can write music but all those skills are nothing when you lack creativity. Steer clear of this release.
Deathspell Omega is a great French Occult Black Metal Band dating back from the end of the 90's that released this album (Infernal Battles) in 2000.
Well, here we have a masterpiece, no doubts, imagine the typical 80's Black Metal kind of sound (Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Bathory, and so on...) then, add some rawer, melancholic parts in the 90's vein (Judas Iscariot, Mutiilation, Darkthrone, and so on...), and you've got a good idea of what this album sounds like.
The recording, however, isn't very good, and sometimes the sound turns into a "harsh-mass-of-sound." That's why it lost the 6 points, but it's nothing that's really harmful, you can usually understand well the riffs, the drumming is ok, the vocals are pretty fine (they are in the 90's raw black metal way), but, forget the bass (you really can't hear it).
A highly-recommended album for Raw Black Metal fans, in all of it ways (80's/90's), but if you're looking for cleanly recorded and technical black metal, STAY AWAY FROM THIS ALBUM!