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Since the release of Sanojesi Äärelle, Horna had been unusually silent. There have been a handful of releases, including a live album and a collection of songs recorded some years earlier, as well as an anniversary E.P. that featured the band's original line-up. Shatraug also took time to work on side projects, such as Sargeist and Mortualia. In the meantime, Corvus left the band to focus on other things. Fans were given their first taste of new vocalist Spellgoth on the Adventus Satanae mini-album. After some delays, in March 2013, Horna finally returned with a new full-length, Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa.
The production is pretty grimy and primitive, which is usually a good thing. In this case, the drums are far too loud in the mix and the guitar melodies are somewhat difficult to follow. The more active the percussion becomes, the less one is able to discern one riff from another. Horna has been going for a rather lo-fi and raw approach for the last decade or so, but this is sometimes hit-and-miss. The sound here isn't on the level of an old Moonblood rehearsal, but it could have been tweaked a bit.
Stylistically, there are no surprises to be found. The band's roots in the early '90s black metal scene are on display, as usual. However, this record does seem to be lacking the eerily haunting riffs that characterized Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne and Sanojesi Äärelle. The songwriting is solid and maintains a consistent feeling throughout, never straying from the pure Black Metal sound that Horna is known for. Unfortunately, the album comes off as a little too safe and predictable. This can be a good thing in some cases. For any other band, this would be a rather good album. Released under the banner of Horna, it seems to be missing something. Spellgoth's vocals don't help, either. He isn't bad at his job, but he relies a bit too much on the random shouts that Nazgul was known for, years earlier. For the most part, he is a capable vocalist, but he doesn't really command your attention in the way that Corvus did. Still, he suits the music well enough. The songwriting is rather straightforward, with a few less meaningful tempo changes than before. There are also less of the catchy riffs that Shatraug is known for, though a few are present. Over the course of the album, the quality of the music seems to improve a bit. Songs like "Ei Aikaa Kyyneleille" and "Kärsimyksin Vuoltu Hänen Valittuna Äänenään" feature some of the first really memorable riffs on the whole record. During the faster parts of the latter track, the tremolo melodies are almost hypnotic and epic, with the drumming seeming to fade into the background like a heavy rain on a metal roof that you gradually come to disregard. "Aamutähden Pyhimys" features a slower section, near the end, that somewhat captures the mournful feeling conveyed by much of the band's output.
All in all, Horna fans have no reason to dislike this, though some may have been expecting a little more monumental after such a long wait. Askel Lähempänä Saatanaa is a solid album, better than any of the full-lengths from the Nazgul era. Judging by the songwriting and production, this sounds like it could have been released in 1993 and is recommended for anyone that is looking for old school black metal with no traces of modern filth. While it is not the type of album that will floor most people on the first listen, it will likely grow on you over time.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com