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Danish black metallers Horned Almighty elected to put a woodcut pastiche of the devil playing a Flying V on the cover of their second full length release, 2006’s ‘The Devil’s Music – Songs of Death and Damnation’. I couldn’t really decide whether this augured well, or whether I thought it was just too kitsch for its own good. Having heard the album, I decided I didn’t care either way.
A wearisome intro of screaming over what sounds like an excerpt from Carl Orff’s oeuvre begins proceedings. The second track kicks in with an overdriven, treble-drenched bass riff, which is picked up by the guitar. My first reaction was ‘is this latter-day The Exploited in disguise, or a cover of The Damned’s ‘Love Song’ with black metal vocals?’ Whilst I was still pondering which it resembled more, my ears were assailed by an awful Chuck Berry-esque solo at around the two minutes thirty mark. Really, there’s no excuse for any band to tolerate their guitarist barring the E and B strings with his index finger and bending the G string in this day and age and calling it a solo. Perhaps he does the duck walk too when they perform this live?
The third track is more or the same, except the guitar and bass start at the same time, sans solo. The fourth track, ‘Glorious Horror’, is rather more in the terrain where I live my black metal to reside. A crisp riff, raucous if slightly too clean guitars (and that presence-saturated bass really begins to grate now) gives way to a beat’s pause and then a mid-paced break that invites some serious head-banging.
‘Discipline Of The Almighty’ turns down the punk influence and dials up some riffing from Repulsion’s ‘Horrified’, as well as bolting on a few early Darkthrone hammer-ons for good measure. ‘The Devil’s Music’ is strangely redolent of classic German thrash riffing without actually really reminding the listener of one band in particular. You’ll also have to endure a finger-tapping solo if you make it to the end of this track, I’m afraid. That’s right: black metal finger tapping. I’d had to turn down the bass by this point, as I just couldn’t take any more of its insistent treble tone.
In isolation, I have enjoyed the eighth track ‘Malicious Mockery’ as a briskly-paced, simple, riff-driven track. However, listening to it in context, I had by this stage begun to tire of Horned Almighty’s stylings, in particular the guitarist’s addiction to hammer-ons and the monotony of the synchronous guitar and bass riffs. In the band’s defence, they do know when to drop in a break, but their structural sixth sense alone is not sufficient to hold the listener’s attention. The vocals veer disturbingly into death metal territory on the penultimate track, ‘Repentance’. The final offering, ‘Cursed With Insight’ is not actually eight minutes long, finishing at 3.45 with a ‘hidden track’ beginning at 4.19. It sounds so much like the other tracks on ‘The Devil’s Music’ that I thought it was an alternate take, but a cursory skip through the introductions of the rest of the album suggests that this isn’t the case. So, who knows?
As someone who bemoans the surfeit of experimentation in much contemporary black metal, I feel somewhat hypocritical about berating a band for its lack of innovation. My criticism, nevertheless, of ‘The Devil’s Music’ is bipartite: firstly, this release is just too ‘samey’ for its own good, and it is not an enjoyable album to listen to in its entirety. Secondly, the reference points that Horned Almighty seem to want to claim for their own reside in the liminal spaces around the edges of the genre that many listeners who have purchased the album on the assumption that it is orthodox black metal just won’t enjoy.