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I am not a fan of black metal's ideology per say, which most would say is inseparable from its music, and I think much of the self-importance that the entire scene seems to have in comparison to those who came before it of late is downright annoying. I do think very highly of most of the artists who are credited with influencing the genre; namely Venom, Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer, Celtic Frost, and a small group of 80s/early 90s death metal bands that could be connected with/morphed into early members of the scene. As such, I can have an appreciation for many of the albums under the black metal banner; one could maybe call it crossover appeal.
“De Mysteriis Dom. Santhanas” is one of those albums to has crossover appeal, mostly owing to its very clean production and strong sense of organization. It still listens like a raw, untamed monster despite this because of the stylistic devices which have since become cliché; namely the continuous tremolo picked riffs, seemingly perpetual blast beats, and goblin-like vocals. However, its charm is that it doesn’t rely solely on these the way most of their imitators due and instead has a fair share of additional elements; the most striking of which are the fair share of complexities in the song structures and some quasi-virtuoso guitar soloing in a few of the 8 blacked chapters of this rather morose book of sounds.
Many complaints by fans of the band were directed at Attila for an alleged inferior vocal performance to his predecessor. Unfortunately “Live in Leipzig” is the only release before this that I haven’t heard so I can’t make a judgment on Dead’s vocals, but I can say affirmatively that he is way better than Maniac. The Gollum-like ravings, the almost Dave Mustaine-like mutterings, and the woeful Lord Dracula inspired baritone at the end of the title track are what keeps this album from venturing into well-produced ambient noise and thrash riff intros/interludes.
It's not much of a stretch to state that every song on this album is good and listenable by any metal standard, save perhaps too much repetition and limited variation keeping some of this from being as exciting as one would expect from a Venom or Mercyful Fate album. “Freezing Moon” is an exception to this tendency and elects to have a couple of down-tempo riffs introduce the song before launching into a mid-80s Slayer-like barrage of speed. It does well to keep from holding onto one idea or one tempo for too long, and Attila’s vocals are dirty as hell but surprisingly in tune with the music. Euronymous plays a solid solo; not the most impressive thing I’ve heard, but a decent offering in the style of Kerry King.
“Pagan Fears” has a lot of progressive death metal tendencies at the start, showcasing a pretty solid start up riff, but ultimately Hellhammer steals the show here with some extremely impressive fills and a solid display of inhuman endurance. It isn’t really any wonder why he has been a very highly demanded drummer associated with over a dozen metal acts. “From the Dark Past” and “By Time and Dust” both have excellent opening riffs, but the drumming tends to carry most of the weight afterwards. There is a general flaw in this approach to metal drumming, which is even more abused on the releases of all the 2nd and 3rd tier black metal bands I’ve encountered. What you eventually get is the concept of up becoming down that was hinted at in Dante’s Inferno. After encountering the Dragon and the 9th plain of Cocytus, Virgil and Dante reach heaven by continuing to descend until down becomes up. Likewise, the continuous repetition of the fasted humanly possible beats become so distorted that they blur into a slow, trance-inducing pulse that essentially works against the innate tendency of exposition, climax and denouement; which is what makes a truly great song.
This album is essentially the zenith of the original black metal movement stylistically, regardless to whether or not it conforms to or contradicts the earlier standards set by this band and the ideals of the movement, (it technically does both in various respects). Fans of mid-80s Slayer, Venom, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer will find a lot to like on here, although the overused blast-beats and slight over-repetition isn't for everyone. I’ve found it best to treat this as an experimental technical death/thrash hybrid, and I do consider it to be a cut above a good number of releases in the death/thrash style.
Later submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 24, 2008.