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Around the time of the release of “The Somberlain,” Sweden was experiencing a massive output of death metal. There were the giants of the genre and there were even more bands releasing demos left and right. Dissection, though, would embrace the darker sounds of black metal and help spawn a whole new wave of terrific bands from the country in Sacramentum, Arckanum, Lord Belial, Vinterland, etc. When metalheads usually discuss which of Dissection’s first two albums are better, it’s usually a pretty split crowd between this one and “Storm of the Light’s Bane,” but both records are worthy of praise for not only their influence, but for how damn good they are.
“The Somberlain” has a dark feel to the music (as do most black metal albums), but the atmosphere on this album is quite different from others. It’s cold, chilling, haunting and absolutely brilliant. A song with the title “Black Horizons” should sound evil, and it does throughout its eight minutes of life. Eight minutes of tempo changes, dark and beautiful melodies, sinister tremolos, acoustic guitars and Nodtveidt’s vicious vocals make for an insanely good song, and album for that matter, as a lot of the songs here contain a lot of the same kind of elements. Every song (not counting the instrumentals) has a fair amount of melody, whether it’s through the tremolo patterns or a soothing melodic solo that pierces through the blistering riffs, Dissection always has just the right amount of melody.
In addition to the cold aura and the melodic tendencies of the band, every other member of the band does their part to perfection. Nodtveidt’s vocals are harsh growls that compliment the bleak backdrop very well. His vocals are also pretty understandable and not just guttural shrieks. The rhythm section on this album is also top-notch, as I was able to find a standout moment on the drumming on every song. I was also able to hear the bass quite fine, as it thumped along or even provided some great fills in the background of the tremolo frenzies. “The Somberlain” proves to be a game-changer for not only the band (who would go on to top this effort with their masterpiece “Storm of the Light’s Bane”), but for the Swedish black metal movement as well. When it comes to getting lost in a flurry of melody and darkness, there just aren’t too many bands out there that can do it better than Dissection and this full-length is usually one the first records I reach for when that time arises.
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
"The Somberlain" is Dissection's first full-length album, and definitely their best release to date. The production fits the music extremely well, with the mix not sounding too clean, but showcasing a somewhat rawer and “colder” sound. The music is also very different from their older material (Reinkaos, Maha Kali, etc.), being more atmospheric and ‘passionate’, whereas their songs are more straightforward heavy metal/melodic death in their later work. “The Somberlain” is also Dissection’s last full-on black metal release, as “Storm Of The Light’s Bane” introduced the band’s further exploration into melodic death metal territory.
Generally speaking, this is a solid melodic black metal release that exudes a strong heavy metal influence and seems to, in a way, create the outlines of the melodic death metal sound as we know it today. The songs are very diverse and all of them follow a progressive trend quite different to 90’s black metal…That's why "The Somberlain" is so unique and revolutionary - It's different, fresh, and never gets boring or monotonous.
The guitarring on this album is absolutely breathtaking, and reaches a level of sheer melodic perfection on songs such as "Black Horizons" and "The Somberlain". Brilliantly skilled classical guitars are used on the songs "Crimson Towers", "Feathers Fell" and "Into Infinite Obscurity", which are utilized perfectly as they break down the tension that is built up by the intensity of the other songs, and set a tranquil mood for the storms that follow. A more minimalistic, yet skilled approach on the drums by Ole Ohman creates a very dark atmosphere which could not have been done better by the likes of Nick Barker or even Hellhammer himself. Jon's vocals sound flawless and cold as they hit you at full force on every song, proving himself as one of the best black metal vocalists to have ever graced the scene.
The album opens with the 8-minute opus "Black Horizons", which takes you on a fierce nocturnal journey by combining ferocious shredding with vast tempo-changes, acoustic guitars and even an old school, Iron Maiden-type yell in the break of the song. The chorus is extremely catchy, and it will have you singing (growling?) along from the second you hear it. The riffs are some of the best I've ever heard, and are very reminiscent of Dark Tranquility and At The Gates at times.
Another masterpiece is the title track, which mixes harmony and brutatlity at an intense speed with a perfect solo that will leave you weeping for it's sheer beauty. The song really progresses perfectly, with many tempo-changes and differences in the style of the riffs. Some great blasting occurs around the end of the song, and the double-bass work is also top notch. What an epic piece of art!
Tracks like “A Land Forlorn” and “Heaven’s Damnation” feast on great tremolo picking and then evolve into more mid-paced sections, only to break out into mighty, double-bass driven frenzies of old school death metal likeness. Thrashy elements and an acoustic piece on “Heaven’s Damnation” really breaks the mould and sets new boundaries by still maintaining the heavy metal/black metal formula that works so brilliantly throughout the album.
One of Dissection’s trademarks, "Frozen", begins with a build-up of toms, snare and Black Sabbath type riffing only to burst out in a cold verse of melancholic stature. My favourite part of the song is around 2:10 and onward, when a dark formation of riffing breaks out onto an old school black metal sound. A definite anthem.
Dissection also expirement in their song “In The Cold Winds Of Nowhere”. It starts off quite slowly, with a walking riff at a doomy pace and then builds up to a punky tempo quite similair to the trademark Carpathian Forest sound. The chorus is very catchy, and the famous chant “In the cold winds of nowhere!!” makes this a song that completely dominates, both musically and lyrically.
Diversity is further explored in "Misstress Of The Bleeding Sorrow", which is a medley of phases, each complimenting the other. The intro is lead by Ohman, combining amazing double-bass drum patterns with medieval sounding guitar harmonies. A more heavy metal and doom-influenced approached then leads through the first two minutes of the song and then harshly speeds up for a full-on mental assault of tremolo picking and monumental battery. This song is very diverse and is very atmospheric, it creates a genuine mood of darkness, depression and melancholy.
Then there is also “The Grief Prophecy”; the shortest song on the album, and really action-packed and progressive. One of the best riffs ever to this date, which is an extraordinary hybrid of melodic death and heavy metal, slithers it’s way through a slow paced build-up and is executed perfectly. The tempo then changes to the jumpy, fast paced rhythm that has set the trend for most of the album and the song finishes with a tremendous exclamation of demonic growling, battery and riffage.
This album is definitely a classic in metal, and, in my opinion, the essential melodic black metal record to own because of it’s flawless balance between ferocious brutality and melancholic passion.
"The Somberlain" is the first L.P. from Swedish legends, Dissection. It is also one of the first Black Metal albums, from the second wave, that I'd heard. All those many years ago, I was blown away when I initially heard this. The feeling remains anytime I listen to this masterpiece.
Now, it's expected that Metal is supposed to have some connection with darkness; moreso with Black Metal. However, this album possesses an atmosphere so cold and nocturnal that it stands out. At this point, I should also point out that the photograph of Bran Castle in the booklet matches the sound perfectly.
From the first seconds of demonic speech, played in reverse, the dark atmosphere begins to unfold. "Black Horizons" is, perhaps, the best Dissection song ever recorded and features one of the greatest melodies I've ever heard. The song begins at full speed, but then goes through a variety of tempo changes, including an acoustic interlude and clean vocals (courtesy of Dan Swanö) and the mood adjusts accordingly. There is a dark, melancholic vibe running throughout the song, yet Jon Nödtveidt's vocals also express an evil hatred that sounds absolutely sinister. The riffs seem to display a bit of influence from Mayhem which would be appropriate as the album is dedicated to the memory of Euronymous, who had been killed shortly before the release. "Black Horizons" is much like the second song of this classic, in that it is very epic Black Metal.
"The Somberlain" is cold and mournful, while also having its faster moments. The title track is another Dissection classic, and is just as epic as the first. This is music that is best suited for the night. To be even more specific, it belongs to the cold nights of Winter. Some of my earliest memories of listening to this album are of walking deserted streets at night while cold winds seemed to cut right through me, just as razor sharp as the guitar riffs, as the snow blew into my eyes to the point where it almost became difficult to see. The production here is great; neither too good nor too bad. It's good enough to appreciate the music and still raw enough to give it the proper feeling.
"Crimson Towers" is a short acoustic instrumental. Despite being short, the melody is introspective and makes one think while also giving a bit of a breather, following the two lengthy songs that began the album.
More beautiful guitar work is displayed as "A Land Forlorn" begins. Again, it's easy to see that the members of Dissection have their roots deep in the old metal scene and they use their knowledge to craft brilliant works of dark art. There are fast tremolo riffs, blast beats but also slower parts that give a hint of a possible Candlemass influence. This doomy side of Dissection appears elsewhere on the album, and fits in seamlessly. This song, as the others, is very memorable and stands on its own.
I really must wonder why people label this as Death Metal, or even Blackened Death Metal, at times as I just don't see it. I've listened to my fair share of Death Metal over the years and I must admit to not being expert enough to identify what exactly keeps this from being conidered pure Black Metal. As far as I'm concerned, this is complete nonsense. "The Somberlain" forever reigns alongside (and perhaps beyond) such classics as "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" as the best examples of Scandinavian Black Metal. "Heaven's Damnation" and "Frozen" are brilliant examples of the genius of the mighty Dissection. Also, it doesn't get more nocturnal than the lyrics of the latter, which is one of my favorite tracks on the album. They really exhibit a great sense of melody and a grasp of the old school mentality here.
Again, the evil onslaught is divided into section with a second instrumental piece. Few bands did this type of thing anywhere near as well as this one. "Into Infinite Obscurity" leads into another great song, "In the Cold Winds of Nowhere" which begins with a doomier riff before getting up to half speed. After a couple minutes, another great melody is unleashed. The album is filled with them, as well as great solos. These solos, unlike contemporary Death Metal solos, actually fit into the song and mean something rather than being done for the sake of getting it out of the way. Again, whether the songs are eight minutes in length or five, the all have a very epic nature about them.
"The Grief Prophecy" begins with another slow and melodic intro. The sound is much more crisp than on the demo version. Again, Jon's vocals really shine through as being something special. "Mistress of the Bleeding Sorrow" features another classic Black Metal riff in the beginning, before transitioning to a doom riff and featuring a solo that is reminicent of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" for some reason. This song remains somewhat slow and mournful throughout much of its four and a half minutes. Of course, the album couldn't end without things speeding up one last time, near the end. This mini-epic is a great closer, followed up by the instrumental, "Feathers Fell."
"The Somberlain" is THE classic of Swedish Black Metal, in my opinion. This has not yet been surpassed (though Watain's "Casus Luciferi" came close). This is cold, nocturnal Black Metal filled with hatred, sorrow and pure evil. An undisputed classic. If you don't own this, kill yourself.
Dissection's debut is a stunning hybrid of melodic death and black metal. It maintains an epic feel, along with an acceptable dose of brutality without losing that cold black metal feeling. The Somberlain almost makes you not care that Jon Nödtveidt was a homophobic asshole.
The band has an original sound, with a riffing style that can only be described as epic, it's not really all that frenzied or brutal, but it does have a very dark sound, and does come off as genuinely evil. The drumming is generally pretty standard, with the odd blast thrown in for good measure. The bass work is largely unnoticeable, and when it is nothing about Palmdahl's work is really impressive. But it fits in well. Over the top of that, Nödtveidt growls out some decent or on occasion very good lyrics in a black metal-esque manner, although he is a little easier on the ears than many.
The production is really quite good, definitely raw, but not sacrificing too much note clarity or power to create the effect. Along with this, the mix is very good, with everything sounding solid, including the low end, which makes this album sound quite a bit more Death metal. Really, the only thing that sounds really ugly is the vocals, and that could easily just be explained as Nödtveidt just having an ugly voice.
The songs in themselves are quite varied; most songs have slower, colder, more epic sections, spaced between faster and heavier parts. And a few songs even have magnificent acoustic interludes from John Zwetsloot. Unfortunately, all the songs have these variations in them. So all the songs have the same elements in them. It’s like saying that Deicide are varied for having the multi-tracked vocals. Which is true, but hear it on every song, and the variation needs variation. So the songs that aren't quite so amazing start to end up sounding like less enjoyable, short versions of the first two monsters. And for that reason, you may as well listen to the better songs.
To make matters worse, the first part is loaded with Dissection classics. Black Horizons is a massive track, which gives us the standard cold, epic riffs that are scattered all over this album. Faster sections with blast beats, a nice acoustic interlude added to make an even more strange collection of music. Followed by some fantastic melodic playing, for good measure, a power metal soaring vocal gets thrown in there. And basically the song has amazing atmosphere completed with great music. Not to mention the lyrics that are grating out of Nödtveidt's throat are basically the perfect lyrical description of the music. It just suits the music amazingly.
Then of course you have the title track, which alternates between being haunting and evil, and simply tearing your face off with some higher speeds. "A Land Forlorn" has some oddities in the riffs, along with a few sections that sound kind of doom like to me. But really, with the added content of these three songs you've heard everything that the band has on offer here. Just with added epic feeling, and enough time to go off on a tangent and play darker, softer metal, with just makes them feel more complete. The shorter songs, really have nothing new to offer, a few of them kick a little harder and faster, such as "Heaven's Damnation", but really, Brutality isn't exactly what makes Dissection such an enjoyable band.
So once those are done there's not all that much to look forward to, just more of the same, condensed. The songs aren't bad, they're really quite good, they still sound cold and evil, they still sound epic, Some are better, some are worse, but they're just shorter versions of the other songs. I just never found myself paying too much attention after "Heaven's Damnation" starts.
Musically, there are a few reasons for the apparent onset of boredom. The band still writes epic sounding songs, so they never stick to a high tempo, or low tempo, or single approach really for more than a minute or so, but more noticeably, Dissection have a very distinct guitar sound. And they really like their original guitar sound. As a rule, the guitars are aimed at being evil and haunting rather than brutal, so there’s little to no chugging. Instead, we get riffs that are very up and down, an average riff moves between a number of very different sounding notes, and then after 4 or 8 repetitions, will noodle out with a few little displays of technical picking. The best example would probably be the first riff of "Black Horizons". Riffs like these are all over the album. There are a few slightly different approaches here and there, which have more of a harmony over a chug or just fast buzzing riff. But really, those two together make up almost the whole album.
Now, a lot of these riffs are stunning, and there’s no truly bad ones (Which explains the high score, although I don't deliberately seek out most of the songs after a the first few). But really the best versions of the riffs are at the start, and nothing really new shows up after about 20 minutes of listening. Making the rest really quite redundant, despite its quality.
Actually, I lied; one good thing does come out of the later album. The solos. Instead of long, melodic sections, with occasional acoustics, the shorter songs begin putting more focus on the solos. And both the guitarists can really play, which again helps most of these songs remain fresh. For Instance, "In the Cold Winds of Nowhere" really isn't that good of a song, to me it's one of the most filler sounding tracks. But it's got about a minute of soloing in it, where everywhere else the solos are really short and don't exactly get to build to the same levels of weirdness and originality.
As the final boredom inducing element on The Somberlain, the only really good elements of the band are the guitars and the vocals. The vocals are a blend of a death growl, and a black metal scream, and while not being too far removed from other vocalists, he is pretty good. But like the guitars, he bathes in the fact that he's got an original idea going, and sticks with it the whole way through. This wouldn't be too much of a problem, but on "Black Horizons" he shows all these interesting and good vocal ideas (Power metal wail, followed by some more quiet cleaner vocals, but only used in an orchestral sense), but they don't make an appearance. And with such an epic sounding album, some of these changes could have made everything a little bit more fun.
The drums are really quite dull, with only brief moments of originality or general thought. The bass is worthless. So when you've only got two things going for you, you really have to make sure that they are first: Good enough that they can overlook any other shortcoming. And second: Good Enough that they can stay interesting for the whole duration of an album. Dissection only passed on the first requirement.
In music, the spirit of youth often expresses itself in restless innovation that forges ahead beyond the limits of a young band's skill. Dissection's debut, The Somberlain, is an album overflowing with youthful creativity, but also burdened by a youthful lack of discipline. And yet, while it lacks the refined craft of the band's later releases like Storm of the Light's Bane, it possesses a passion, inventiveness, and authenticity sorely lacking in the albums to follow.
The term 'blackened death' metal is often thrown about liberally, with no real concern for its accuracy or the veracity of its usage, but the phrase is aptly used when applied to The Somberlain. By applying black metal technique to a riff lexicon steeped in the traditions of Swedish death metal (with occasional nods to classic doom metal in the vein of first album Candlemass or perhaps Pagan Altar), Dissection forged a truly hybrid style that married the melodic fluidity of the former to the percussive and structural complexity of the latter.
While The Somberlain occasionally genuflects in the direction of traditional heavy metal (most evident in the lead work), the overwhelming NWOBHM influence found on Storm of the Light's Bane is notably absent (and mercifully so). Instead, it features songs epic in construction and spirit (and sometimes in length as well), built from riffs that, while often resembling the work of God Macabre or contemporaries Necrophobic, are laid out so as to suggest the reconstructive spirit of black metal rather than the deconstructive ethos of death metal. Similarly, despite the frequent twists and turns of rhythm, each piece is defined in narrative by melody rather than percussion, with variations of mood suggested primarily by neo-Baroque acoustic breaks and shifts in riff texture rather than by time changes (which, while numerous, tend to be fluid rather than abrupt).
Where this material is strongest is in its ability to capture an eternal instant and hold it for a moment's contemplation. Indeed, much of this material is simply beautiful, despite the darkness at its core. That these ecstatic moments are accomplished with a minimum of the cloying, Maiden-style harmonies and bouncy rock rhythms that undermine Dissection's subsequent releases only enhances their power. Nodtveidt, too, is in fine form, thankfully finding a happy medium between vocal formlessness and the sort of sing-song preciousness that made later material like "Thorns of Crimson Death" almost unlistenable. Here, he imparts his vocal lines with a sense of driving rhythm that compliment the music without simply doubling the dominant cadence in boring, anthemic fashion.
The Somberlain is far from perfect, however. At times, these songs bog down: and like much of the death metal that inspired them, collapse under the weight of their own overly elaborate musical embellishments, their lines of narrative hopelessly fragmented by a riff salad approach that needlessly burdens the compositions with rococo adornment, rendering some pieces more effective in revealing moments of insight than constructing a coherent creative world to explore in depth. But, like an 18th century chateau, the formal beauty of most of The Somberlain makes it an album worth visiting, despite occasional lapses of taste and editorial judgment.
This is Dissection's debut. A band that would prove to be an inspiration to many black and melodic death metal bands alike. The melodic element of their raw sound became something that was much sought after in the following years, but this is where it all began.
This album is one that is so well crafted that it within this facet that lies its genius. The acoustic interludes written by Zwetsloot are just right to make links between the album's sections. Black Horizons and The Soberlain kick things off in style, with two of the band's biggest songs songs, not to mention epic, being played back to back. From then on one is sent into a dark atmospheric bliss with cold remnants and melodies to be remembered and felt down to your very core.
Dissection are an evil band and that came through in their sound in the early days. The melodies are catchy yet definitely have that old feeling to them that makes you know you're listening to black metal. The guitar work here is very good, with nice interplay and interesting and tasteful solos to boot. Jon's vocals come out very well although the album's production is very raw to say the least. His voice leads the way for the eerie soundscape to behold. The only flaw may be found in the drum patterns. Ohman was not the most skilled of drummers but in this case one can get by that and simply enjoy the music and its effect.
A very interesting and groundbreaking release, this record is a classic.
"The Somberlain" reigns with "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", "Black Metal" and "Under the Sign of the Black Mark" as one of the great black metal classics. Everything fell into place for this release...and I mean EVERYTHING. The production is enjoyable, the musicianship is amazing and the songwriting is deep as the darkest well. Vocals mix to create an aura of violence and chaos while the drums/guitars shred atmospheric holes in every space they manage to touch. Evil as evil can be...this record went slightly unnoticed for no good reason at all. Dissection never failed the black metal world, and possibly even surpassed many of the so called "legends" that the media hype that surrounded the first wave ended up promoting. Despite having his own little murder rap and drama...Dissection made music that has only gotten it's just due in the past few years.
I wish I could pick some key songs from this record buy everything is of an equally enjoyable value. The songcraft is both epic and enganging while avoiding the pitfalls and extra-fat that tend to mar albums with such a scope. Also, another trait that seperates them from the "epic black metal" pack is the ability to create an aura of violence that most brutal bands lose when they attempt to drift towards a more thoughtful atmosphere. Little can be said about this record that hasn't been said before...it is an excellent example of epic, violent and thought-provoking composition.
Dissection have created a record with a mood, style and presence that few could even begin to approach. If not for the murders and untimely demise of the band I am sure that they would have received more attention for the music than for the drama and they would be one of the largest acts (not that the returning version won't be) in black metal today.
BUY OR DIE!
The Somberlain could be considered Dissection's finest hour, but a few things hold it back, and I'll get to those in a minute. On the other hand, the traditional metal elements that they threw into this album really make it an interesting listen. John Zwetsloot's contributions are very evident in his emphasis in classical melodies and atmospheres shine in nearly every song. His three classical acoustic pieces break up the album into three distinct pieces and they're expertly performed, without making it sound anything like pow(d)er puff metal. Nodtveidt's lyrics aren't as good as on Storm of the Light's Bane, but they are well written and express emotions rather well (The middle of the title track, "In the Cold Winds of Nowhere" and "Mistress of Bleeding Sorrow" are great examples of this). When the riffs are black metal-esque, they sound strong and evil, when they're thrash oriented, the crush. Good stuff. The more "emotional" sounding moments, like the middle of "Black Horizons," "The Somberlain," and "In the Cold Winds of Nowhere" are really fucking excellent. When they decide to slow it down for "Mistress of Bleeding Sorrow," they dish out some truely doomy riffing. Opeth only wishes they could come up with stuff as powerful as this (no offense to them, but Dissection does the mixture of acoustic and metal best). Oh yeah, and there are more solos on here than on Storm... and they're all ingeniously performed.
Now, the bad parts. Really, nothing on this album is terrible. The artwork is pretty good, the production is clear, and everyone is competent with their instruments. "Black Horizons" takes about 2 minutes before it launches into the main verse, and even if it does go through several riff changes in the beginning, it just seems to take a while to take off. "The Grief Prophecy...," "Heaven's Damnation," and especially "Frozen" never really catch my ear. They just sound a little immature, and when you place them next to the other songs on here, they get overshadowed.
Every riff on this album is dark. Some type of unhappy emotion produced it. Lots of rage, lots of hate, and a healthy dose of sorrow. When they were able to stream-line their approach on "Storm of the Light's Bane," they became true masters of this genre.