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Hellsaw's previous album Phantasm was a passable work of grim and desolate Austrian black metal, but nothing extraordinary. This third work is much the same as that, save for a slightly greater emphasis on glorious melodies. Truth be told the songs here have just enough polish that I listened through a few times, and it has a great sound quality with airy guitars and Aries' tortured barking.
The album opens with a lovely acoustic segment until the meat of "A Suicide Journey" arrives in force, it has a simple but flowing pace which recalls the cold work of many other depressive black metal acts, yet a sharper tone and more melodies work themselves in through the structure. "The Black Death" comes out firing with a Bathory feel to it, this sound might as well have appeared on Blood Fire Death, and I really like the simple breakdown riff under the verse. "Der Harzwald" is a faster, shining song with some nice atmosphere to it. "Cold Aeon" has a decent thrash out black metal beginning, and "Psycho Pastor" opens with a creepy chant and narrative segment before becoming what might be the album's most interesting track. The sombering "Sulphur Prayer", mostly just resonating guitars with a few drums and tortured howls, is also nice. Other high points are the glorious "Moonrites Diabolicum" and pummeling, frost-tinged "Ache".
The band really brought out a lot in the mix, the guitars are crystalline cold like a bitter nite of rime-filled fields and pale moonlight. The drums, guitar and bass are all mixed very well and the vocals only complement their despair. Each song has an intriguing moment or two, even if some of the writing seems average. The warm tones do not betray the cold disposition of the band's lyrical themes, and it's a decent black metal album worth a fair shake.
The concept of black metal has become fairly loose lately, as a host of bands from both the early 90s and from more recent times have been mixing in a fair amount of other influences. The style has actually gotten so far from its original roots that now there are bands appealing to hipsters who might also pick up an album by The Sword or Isis. Hellsaw, to their credit, doesn’t really go too far from the original style that kept it raw and untamed, but their take on the style definitely takes a few pointers from Immortal’s later death and thrash influenced black metal albums and from some melodic and symphonic bands.
“Cold” lives up to its name in many respects, and also goes against it in a few others. There is a fair amount of acoustic and keyboard work that actually gives the album a sense of warmness, as if the yeti went back into his cave to build a fire. Then later the flurries of tremolo melodies and blast beats come in to signal the mighty beast’s return to the frostbitten landscapes beyond his domicile. The biggest example of this is the opening song “A Suicide Journey”, which listens pretty well, but sort of meanders at times. Combined with a fairly clean and non-fuzzy production that has a good deal in common with Drudkh, and a vocal performance that is heavily reminiscent of the wails of frozen agony heard on Burzum’s material, and you have something that listens like an ode to early December rather than the blistering blizzards of late January.
Although there isn’t really anything on here that could be qualified as light or pristine, the band is definitely at its best when it sticks to straight up aggression or straight up ambience, rather than mixing the two. “The Black Death” is the high point if you’re looking for something that’s really close to those early 90s albums that are hailed as groundbreaking. It’s pretty similar to something you’d hear on Gorgoroth’s “Incipit Satan” in terms of a vocal and rhythmic assault, although the riffs and melodic tendencies actually go a little closer to Emperor, but without the keyboards. “Cold Aeon” has a really solid thrash feel to it, especially during that wickedly catchy intro riff. “I Saw Hell” sort of veers into a little bit of a crust punk direction, definitely catchy and easy to follow, although the vocal performance on here is probably the rawest on the album.
From start to finish, this is a pretty multifaceted effort that takes some cues directly from about 5 or 6 bands in the glory days of the early to mid 90s blackened underground, a fairly common but satisfying direction for newer bands in the style. There are a large number of elongated instrumental sections which definitely point it a little in a Progressive direction, although even the ultra-melodic and beautiful instrumental “Subterranean Empire” doesn’t really wander too far from the stuff heard out of Immortal in the late 90s. Though it’s a bit short of being a masterwork, this album is definitely worth checking out, if you can tolerate a band with heavy melodic tendencies in this genre.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 17, 2009.