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Deathspell Omega is a rather odd entity within the realm of Black Metal. This French band, like many others, began their career playing a style of music that owed a great deal to early Darkthrone. Yet, instead of merely copying their idols, they added their own eerie mark. Over the course of a handful of releases, they seemed to be on a fairly predictable course, though this is not to say that the quality was not high enough. However, after a couple years of silence, they shocked many with Si Momumentum Requires, Circumspice. This represented a drastic departure from their previous path, with no warning. Many fans were turned off by the new style, as well as the new vocalist. With each new release, the band got further away from their original sound and alienated a lot of listeners. However, in 2008 those who preferred the earlier period of Deathspell Omega were given a gift.
Shortly after Inquisitors of Satan, the band recorded enough material for a new full-length. The songs were supposedly intended for a couple different split releases, though it would have made more sense to just release it all as the band's third L.P. At any rate, this music was not released and it remained buried for several years. What can be heard here is the next logical step in the band's evolution, and the missing link between their second and third albums. This is also the final material to feature Shaxul, who always suited the band more as a vocalist than Mikko.
The music falls in line with what one would expect, following Inquisitors of Satan. Most of the songs are fast-paced, with a lot of blasting drums and tremolo-picked riffs. This is all straight from the old school Darkthrone playbook, yet the style of melodies is something of their own invention. There is a sombre quality to many of the riffs, as well as a lot of tension and chaos. The vocals add to this sense, sounding very unrestrained. Some riffs hearken back to the First Wave bands, such as Hellhammer, but one has to wonder if this was a direct influence or if it came filtered through Darkthrone. The first several tracks would not have been out of place on the band's earlier albums, though these songs may not have stood out quite as much.
"Monotonous Ecstasy of Death" is where the band displays hints of their new direction. In a way, this picks up where "Decadence" left off, yet it also bears similarities with the record that would follow. This song is more mid-paced and features a somewhat unsettling main riff. While listening to this, it is easy to fall into a sort of trance and to see visions from one's own nightmares tearing through the fabric of reality and manifesting in this dimension. Just as the blood begins to flow, the pace picks up and a sense of urgency comes over you.
The next song, "Forever Cold", maintains the intensity until around the middle, when it slows down and the guitars take on an eerie sound, once more. For the most part, this one sticks to the same formula as on the previous album, despite the brief hints of their future path.
"Procreation Epidemic" features more of the type of chords that are found on Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, mixed in with more traditional tremolo melodies. The song utilizes some variation in tempo, though it remains fast-paced for the majority of the time. The blending of the two is very well-done and serves to create a hellish feeling; an epic sense of misery combined with a nightmarish desperation to slice open one's veins and to escape the bonds of flesh through an ever flowing stream of blood.
The final two tracks are more standard, with minor hints of the new sound that was creeping in, but nothing terribly interesting or essential. This goes to show that while the band was growing and adding new elements to their sound, around this time, they were still firmly rooted in the early 90's Scandinavian scene, most notably Darkthrone. They did it quite well and it was a shame when things fell apart for this band.
While their current output is utter trash and has nothing to do with Black Metal, these songs hearken back to better days. Manifestations 2002 is a rare look into the past of Deathspell Omega, before they jumped on the Orthodox Black Metal bandwagon and betrayed their original vocalist. For those who consider their later era to be a descent down a foul and unpleasant path, this recording should remind you of what this band was once capable of. If you are a fan of Infernal Battles and Inquisitors of Satan, then this album is a must-have.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
*Fires up a trusty copy of Manifestations: 2002 in his favorite media player*
Ah... now this is what nature intended when Deathspell Omega was cut from the shocked quartz fragments of pioneer black metal monoliths like Venom, Hellhammer, Sodom, and Darkthrone. Quite possibly in my mind alone, is this the final, ultimate fruit of their labor coming to head down the ideological left hand, orthodox path. The 2008 release of 'Manifestations: 2002' represents a complete album of "lost" material that resides somewhere on the crossroads of 'Inquisitors of Satan' and 'Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice'. This compilation bears the black mark of Shaxul's final outing with Deathspell Omega; perhaps the fate, and final achievement, of the original line-up was always written in the cards... preordained in the sands of time. Whatever the future held for the band, change was always something the wheel of time was going to deal out. Unfortunately for Deathspell, Mikko Aspa was waiting in the wings, wheezing with baited breath.
For me, the buttery, golden boy of Clandestine Blaze has never done anything I would consider my cup of tea. All of the music he's been involved in, that I have heard, has a distinct air about it that wreaks of sweaty, lumbering, embittered, misogynistic, night-stalking repugnance that just gets under my skin. His greasy fingerprint is all over the later Deathpsell Omega material; it's basically what drags 'Si Monumentum...' and 'Fas - Ite, Maledicti...' through the mud, rendering it foul and mostly unpalatable tripe. With him on board, songs like "Carnal Malefactor" simply become ironic testaments to the revolting stain of his putrescence on the band.
Gripes with performance artists aside, Manifestations: 2002 is the missing link in the chain that connects the Darkthrone worshiping, garage band, to full-fledged juggernaut of progressive, orthodox black metal. As the final puzzle piece in DSO's discography, it is one of a certain, special magnitude. Now you might know already, but the material on this compilation was originally staged for two individual releases: 1) Crushing The Holy Trinity Compilation, and 2) a split with the group called Cantus Bestiae. The split never happened, and a massive track written around the time of the Kenose EP was used for the Holy Trinity compilation. Fortunately for fans of the older material, like myself, the essence of this release retains an alkaline quality in much of the same vein as 'Inquisitors of Satan' and the split with Clandestine Blaze.
The music found on this release is mostly a high-octane, 'Morbid Tales' Celtic Frost, 'In the Sign of Evil' Sodom & 'Transilvanian Hunger' Darkthrone hybrid with enough buzz-saw feedback to teach the listener just about when the band's gritty teeth were cut in the industry. Drumming is fairly competent, rigorous blast-beating throughout; on the whole, it seems mostly supplemental to the axe-work, occupying an equal range in the mix. Not to be outdone, the vocalist proves once and for all that his chops are just as razor sharp as the rest of the band by giving his most stirring performance on this, his last album with Deathspell Omega. The venomous quality of his cords are abundantly evident at the onset of this treacherous album; in fact, he manages to give even more rousing and eclectic an effort on tracks 3 and 7 just to ensure the "heights" ever reached by Mikko Aspa come off as flat as a pre-pubescent school-girl's bosom. What's even more impressive about this compilation is its maturity in juxtaposition to all previous efforts with the "old" line-up. Clearly, Deathspell Omega's song-writing was taking a turn for the better, heading into what would eventually be hailed as the messianic era of their orthodox years.
Suffice it to say this is the last effort put forth by the old line-up, showcasing their stellar, old-school approach to more modern black metal; the 2nd wave aesthetic intact for one last time. And yet, the leanings towards a progressive song-writing style is evident through the slightly longer song lengths, expansion on guitar harmonic techniques, including droning or repetitive atmosphere through unconventional compositions that are clearly straying away from the traditional verse/chorus/verse structures of old.
This is a unique offering in the Deathspell discography and shouldn't be missed by fans on either side of the coin. This is the final chapter in the book of absolutely mandatory Deathspell Omega.
2007 saw the release of "Fas – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum" as the second panel in a monumental triptych begun three years prior. It was a clear departure from many standards of Black Metal, even the revolutionary "Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice." Many fans embraced this new brand of dark, calculated chaos. Abandoned were those too conservative to stray beyond their Black Metal orthodoxy.
For this latter group (but really all DsO fans in general) the "Manifestations" compilations are a glorious blessing. We feel like archaeologists who discovered a lost history. This is especially true on "Manifestations 2002", of which no material was released prior. Like filling in gaps in the fossil record, we can now appreciate how these French Darkthrone worshippers evolved into the apotheosis of Black Metal’s 3rd wave.
So you can see why those wary of the latest material are beyond excitement. Just the artwork itself foreshadows the storm of darkness and hatred unleashed upon pressing play. “Tyrants And Slaves” delivers such an assault, with relentless blast-beats and oppressive riffing. Rasping amidst the tempest are Shaxul’s shrieks, higher pitched than Mikko’s signature growls, reflective of the band’s adolescence. This track also showcases the haunting melodies their lead guitars are capable of.
As a transition piece, "Manifestations 2002" reveals a step up in complexity and a firmer grip on their craft. With this they rise to a level beyond even their countrymen Antaeus’s latest output, "Blood Libels." But amidst this passion and vigor we find elements employed in their later material. For example, “Procreation Epidemic” contains the same melody used to greater effect in “Kénôse II” three years later. With this compilation (though all from a single recording session) the jump from the formulaic "Inquisitors of Satan" to "Si Monumentum…" no longer seems miraculous, but a logical progression. The music itself is evidence of a turbulent era, from which Shaxul departed the band, citing the clandestine philosophy that DsO was adopting.
This is by no means a money-grabber compilation of B-sides. This was material intended for release, but pushed aside in preparation for the band’s monolithic breakthrough. Currently on their way to the trinity’s conclusion, the band has unveiled a hidden chapter crucial to understanding the coalescence of a cryptic vision. And even for those new to the band, this is the perfect place to start. For this is supreme quality Black Metal by any standards: vicious, melancholy, and dark as the depths of Erebus. "Manifestations 2002 is" further proof that Deathspell Omega are the pontifices maximi of post-millennium Black Metal.