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Albums like this genuinely piss me off. If you've read any of earlier, less balls-out reviews, you'll notice there's a pretty general theme throughout. Even gabbered out with my tounge-venom-restraints, my motto has always basically stated the following: black metal sucks cancerous gentleman schlong. There are very few albums pertaining to the genre out there that end up touring my CD player more than once, and as you can probably guess by the rating, this isn't one of them.
Naglfar is just another faceless melody driven "black metal" act about as crucial to the legacy as clowns are to the ladder of society. Shitcoasters like "Sheol" provide the bulk of their entertaining facets only after the musical aspects are disregarded, and the album is left bubbling in the microwave along with a gaggle of 2004 AOL demos. I know full well the majority of readers will simply brush this off as biased and, dare I say, "wrong", but hey, a true review is supposed to subjective; a tagline is objective you whining bitch-ettes.
While I honestly can't make any comparisons to these poofters earlier work, judging simply by the similarities in artwork and whatnot, I can easily come to the conclusion that their entire discography is awful, and sounds more or less, exactly the same as this. The riffwork here is blaring, melodic, and urm, well... somewhat decent, but only to a translucent extent. No, it's not really a lack of technical proficiency that ruins this, it's the fact that every song has the same exact qualities of the last. The vocals are applied by both the bassist and well, vocalist, but somehow sound completely identical, and lurch fourth with the exact same fucking patterns every other track. The drumming is mindless blasting, and while not unskillful, comes across as incredibly generic and about as far away from fresh and exciting as physically possible. Combining these points doesn't equate to a good listen, as you can probably tell, and the only way I was able to get through this monstrosity was one or two tracks at a time. When utilizing a form of entertainment, it's never a good sign when sitting through it's entirety becomes a painful chore.
The absolute worst part of this stupid album is indefinately the production, which is the aural equivalent to a crystal china cabinet with platinum framing in a Greenhouse next to the world's largest lightbulb testing plant. Why would I choose to bash a generally "positive" aspect of a band's overall sound? 'Cause this is black metal, you assboat! Black Metal is supposed to be raw and grim and kvlt and all of that other bullshit! This sounds like a spacey prog album played without any bass whatsoever within a small aluminum sided closet at maximum volume. The relatively canned, completely synthetic sound quality is not the only negative aspect, as sitting pretty along side these sewage gargling qualities is the fact that the vocals completely overpower the underlying rhythm, and the drums mar any possibility of hooks and catchiness from the riffs.
Black Metal is supposed to be about emotion, hate, and atmosphere - this album doesn't even come close to any of these qualities. Instead, it's equivalent to a waiting room full of shreiking children, where the only hate you'll feel is towards your physician for taking his sweet time. To sum things up, just look at the cover illustration. White hot pseudo art at it's prime. Fuck photomanipulation and fuck Naglfar. If you want some dark, rich atmosphere, listen to Aeternus's first two albums, pretty much anything by Mutiilation, Darkthrone's early trilogy, Draugar, and the U.S. Leviathan. Stuff like Sheol belongs underneath a frothing mug, so don't let the hype fool you. It's just another step for the genre in becoming commercially acceptable.
Naglfar aren’t exactly the most prolific band in the metal kingdom. Releasing their first full-length in 1995, these Norwegian purveyors of black thrash-death are only on their third full-length with the release of SHEOL (Translated from the Hebrew as “Hell”).
I’ve never actually listened to any of Naglfar’s works prior to SHEOL, so I don’t have any baseline to which I can compare SHEOL. For that reason, I held off reviewing this album for a month, hoping that something would click between Naglfar and I.
Well, after many listens, I still can’t get into SHEOL. They claim to play a blend of black thrash-death, but the end result is more akin to the blasting/grinding of a Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir, minus the endless sea of keys. Yeah, this really is not my thing. Songs like “I Am Vengeance,” “Wrath of the Fallen,” and “Force of Pandemonium” really pass by without leaving much of an impression. “The Infernal Ceremony” doesn’t count either, as it is a mellow piano outro, very out of place with the tone on the rest of the album.
SHEOL does have some really great moments, though. “Black God Aftermath” is a really powerful track. I’m getting a strong Dissection feel from this one. The dual guitars really stand out with the combination of a melodic lead going along with a super thick backing riff. The fury slows down in tempo only, sacrificing no intensity while Jens belts out a simple chorus, “BLACK! GOD! AFTERMATH!” Yeah, by the 3rd listen or so, I’m expecting this part, and my fist’s in the air as I scream along. “Abyssmal Descent” has quite a bit of variation, starting out with a slow death metal groove until a few seconds of silence separate the last half of this seven-minute track. Here, the band picks up some speed (still only slightly faster than mid-paced), with a melodic riff much like the latest Old Man’s Child album, IN DEFIANCE OF EXISTANCE. “Devoured by Naglfar” is the most death-metal track on the album. Why the hell can’t they cut back on the blastbeats? Too many great passages are bogged down and separated by these breaks. Mattias Grahn proves from time to time on this album that he can really lay down an intense double-bass line with plenty of killer rolls. I wish he would express this talent more frequently. “Of Gorgons Spawned Through Witchcraft” is a killer track. The melodic lead here is still quite raw and cuts right to the bone; background keys help create a more haunting atmosphere. This track, too, reminds me very much of OMC’s latest work. “Unleash Hell” does precisely what the title indicates. Well, it unleashes SOMETHING. Jesus FUCKING piss on a stick! Where the hell did this ripping melodic guitar duel come from? Holy shit does this track rule. Too bad it’s the shortest one on the album at just 3:31. The short little solo coming in after only 55 seconds is straight from the old school of classic metal, and totally unexpected. Were that the rest of the album was in this style; I would be humping the fuck out of it. Oh yeah, the lead riff on here is absolutely scathing. My head’s banging now. The last track, “Force of Pandemonium” doesn’t do much for me overall, but it does have a couple nice solos, and a strong melodic lead breakdown starting around the 3 minute mark.
Naglfar does a good job bringing SHEOL out, and damn well they do, since they’ve only had 5 years since the last full-length to do so. At least they’re not as lazy as Manowar. The production on this album is clear; it is only through inane blast-grind passages that the guitars are lost. The artwork, too, by Niklas Sundin is awesome, in a disturbing kinda way. It’s one of those covers that just has a creepy feel to it. I wish I had a full album in front of me, instead of a promo slipcase so I could see what the rest of the layout looks like. In the end, I dug this quite a bit more than I expected to. We’ve got 3 absolutely killer tracks with “Black God Aftermath,” “Of Gorgons Spawned Through Witchcraft,” and “Unleash Hell,” and some redeeming moments in a couple others. I may just have to go back and investigate Naglfar’s back catalog.
(originally written by me for www.metal-rules.com, June, 2003)