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Black metal is often, if not mostly, affiliated with satanism and anti-christianity, so believe me when I say I was surprised to find that Denial of God, despite their ungodly name, has very little focus on those subjects.
Denial of God is a Danish band that is locally well known. They've released one album and a slew of EPs prior to Death and the Beyond, but I never really got around to checking them out. For those unfamiliar with the Danish trio, they have surprisingly little in common with your typical, garden variety black metal band. They seem to be more inspired by King Diamond and Mercyful Fate than other bands in the genre, and their sound and structure certainly aren't as chaotic and tremolo-based as many others, and lyrically "Death and the Beyond" leans a lot less on the typical satanic material as I had expected, especially because their previous album had satanic themes.
Death and the Beyond boasts a wide variety of material. Starting out with the mood-setting piano-piece Veni Spiritus and ending with the 15 minute black metal epic Pendulum Swings the 45 minutes in between features everything from the melancholically uplifting and almost ballad-like Behind the Coffin's Lid to more traditional black metal tracks like Black Dethe and The Cursed Chamber.
Of Denial of God's second album can generally be said that it relies heavily on holding single notes rather than shredding away at 200 BPMs as well as atmospheres that can mostly be described as cemetary or crypt-like. Their focus on somber melodies like in the tracks Funeral and Bones Turn to Dust makes for a truly alternate take on Scandinavian black metal in 2012.
In regards to musicianship it goes without saying that Denial of God may not be the most technical band around, but their particular style of black metal suits a more simple songwriting much better. Death and the Beyond is a simple and effective album and is easily one of the better black metal releases I've heard this year so far. Ustumallagam's sepulchral vocals in conjunction with the despairing guitars of Azter and the great drum tracks of Galheim makes up a recipe for brilliant and different black metal. What can I say, finally a black metal band that doesn't just ape everything their Norwegian counterparts do.
Originally written for http://gouls-crypt.blogspot.com/
Considering their 21 year history, Danes Denial of God have had a rather quiet career, producing at first a long series of EPs through the 90s that eventually led up to some more substantial works in recent times. Death and the Beyond is only the band's second full-length album, but I've got to admit that I do enjoy the atmosphere and concept the band is attempting to manifest, if not so much the songwriting and execution. Like many bands of their ilk, there is the fascination with Satan and the occult, but they attempt to capture more of a supernatural horror feel through the album that brings about comparisons to acts like Mortuary Drape, Mercyful Fate, and King Diamond, even though the musical manifestation is quite different.
Quite liked the cover on this album, simple yet colorful and elegant, and the Gothic piano/vocal intro "Veni Spiritus" led me to believe that this would be quite a lot more atmospheric than it turned out. The band does implement pianos, synthesizers, and cleaner guitars to help break out the meatier riffing, but in general they play in a fairly minimal, subdued brand of black metal with a balance of slower, Celtic Frost-inspired grooves like you'll hear in "Funeral" and mid-paced, flowing rhythms with a hint of thrash ("The Cursed Chamber"). The production on the record is quite clean, especially the drums and guitar tone, so it makes for a smoother transition to the less metallic segues strewn about the track list, but it often leeches some of the riffs from a potential, rawer power that might have benefited their general lack of nuance and aggression. That said, Denial of God are no strangers to variation: they are not constantly repeating themselves here, fully capable of launching into a blasted rhythm with tremolo guitars in a total 90s fashion ("Behind the Coffin's Lid", the faster segments of "Black Dethe") or meting out an incorporeal interlude ("Spectral Lights").
The vocals are nothing out of the ordinary, almost like a thicker Satyr rasp but with a few deviations into the Gothic, solemn narrative I hinted at before. Death and the Beyond does suffer from some bloat, with a number of tunes exceeding 9 minutes and the grand finale, "Pendulum Swings" hitting 15. If the songs were actually creepier, or at least featured more malevolent passages interspersed with the dryer fare, then this would be easier to ingest, but too often here I felt that the guitars were uninspired and the little key melodies, which were often used to create a morbid lullaby, just went nowhere. Ultimately, my frustration with this album stemmed from the fact that, while I dig what the Danes are trying to achieve, the actual music does not live up to the breathtaking, ghostly theme, and I found myself admiring the more spacious, atmospheric segues as in "Bones turn to Dust" than the actual metal content. This is by no means an unpleasant or bad record, but it doesn't possess the thrills and chills I expected when looking upon it.