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I was very surprised to see such a low score for one of the greatest black/death metal albums that ever came out of Sweden at the turn of the century! Since Dissection left us wanting for more, and with no other band to match the greatness of Storm of the Light` s Bane, here comes Naglfar with their third album: Sheol.
This was my first CD with Naglfar, but now I own them all. This is the best, but the others are not far behind. In my opinion this is a great band and I really don`t know or understand why they are not mentioned alongside Dissection, Necrophobic, Lord Belial and the like. In this reviewer's humble opinion, Sheol is the rightful successor of Storm of the Light`s Bane, and the only one that comes close to that album`s epic, cold, dark, evil atmosphere, but in a way still melodic. Lord Belial had only one true great album, Enter the Moonlight Gate, the others being total crap. On the other hand, Necrophobic, with some classic albums on their own, have more in common with death metal. In this context, Naglfar was the only one to continue what Dissection left unfinished: Swedish black/death metal at its best!
Going ahead with the album review, I must say from the beginning that what we have here is black/death metal. We have the blast beats, we have the high speed tremolo picked guitars. On the other hand, we have the more balanced parts, where the speed takes a step back in order to allow for the guitars to some epic, more melodic riffs. That perfect balance is where the album shines. In order to create this great sound the production helped a lot. It is clean, but not too polished. Every instrument has its moments, but this is a guitar driven album. Then we have the drums, where Mr. Grahn does a great job. One thing about the vocals: Jens Rydén is amazing. They also use some keys, but they appear only a few times.
The two guitarists, the driving force behind Sheol, deserve a special mention. A. Nilsson and M. Norman ( Vargher ) may very well be the best guitar duo of extreme metal and this album presents their best work so far. They manage to create some epic riffs and melodies, but they also play some great solos. In fact, every song has its own solo, which is kind of atypical for a black/death metal album.
As for the actual songs,this album should be experienced as a whole. The songs are coming natural one after the other. There are no fillers here. Some more catchier songs come out in front of the others. But we do find the diversity which defines a great band putting together a great metal album ( remember Storm of …, The Somberlain, Enter The Moonlight Gate, The Nocturnal Silence).
The songs that deserve some special attention are: the opener I Am Vengeance prepares the listeners for what is to come. The best song is by far Black God Aftermath, an exceptional epic and evil sounding piece. This song is fast, atmospheric, evil, with some slow, atmospheric parts. The crushing atmosphere of the album is most evident on the fourth song, Abysmal Descend. The only time the album slows down a bit, it reminds of the great Where Dead Angels Lie, although this one is much more depressive and suicidal. The sentiment of loss and demise is almost unbearable. The lyrics are excellent and they manage to add to the general dark and evil atmosphere. And Rydén is amazing at delivering them!
The conclusion: Sheol has a great atmosphere, excellent musicianship, great lyrics, and on top of that, the performance of Jens Rydén (something that Dissection never really had). Stop reading this, go buy it now and let Naglfar devour you!
If Naglfar's goal was to induce slumber on Sheol, they have certainly both met and exceeded their lethargic objective. While the album is a technically sound slab of melodic black metal, a pronounced lack of variety in both delivery and composition nukes any slim hopes that the band can get their shit together for any reasonable period of time. Certainly not long enough to evoke much memorability.
At least on the production front, Sheol accomplishes the majority of it's barbarous aims. Both Nilsson and Norman evoke cryptic, murky tones that while obscure, still have the proclivity to burn like a buzzsaw blade not unlike the one pictured on the album's cover. It certainly helps that the six-strings' prime delivery consists of oracular tremolo patterns alongside the occasional heavier powerchord-driven passage. The solo work is both searing and atypical of the genre, helping lift individual moments to near-greatness as the melodic appeal of the solos soar high and mighty over the churning sea of abrasive distortion that constitutes the majority of Sheol's sonic profile. In fact, the album's titanic levels of abrasion very nearly rival Limbonic Art's The Ultimate Death Worship in both riffing style and sonic aesthetics.
Sheol's biggest problem is naturally one of variation. While many of these songs aren't necessarily carbon copies of one another, stagnancy in the riffs and overall tempo make much of the album too easy to predict. There just aren't enough surprise elements or atmospheric counterpoints to contrast the interminable waves of distorted slush that cumulatively lose lasting power as the album drags on. The biggest deviation from the moribund norm is undoubtedly the opener "I Am Vengeance". The song has more of a fire lit under it's proverbial ass for some reason and gets Sheol off to a promising start. While many of the other tracks aren't too far removed from the opener's misanthropic mannerisms, they rumble by with such obvious sadistic glamors that the listener often loses track of where in the album he is actually at. In fact, after "I Am Vengeance", the proceedings sink into faceless melodic black metal posturing until "Devoured by Naglfar" comes by and whips things back into shape. Sheol gains a bit of a foothold during it's second half, with solid numbers like "Unleash Hell" demanding neck-jerking alongside it's grooving disposition. This one also features some scant keyboards that remind me of the title track from The Ultimate Death Worship, which is actually the most impressive cut on said album. A decent honor for a track that otherwise gets lost in the procession due to the lame songs that bookend it.
Grahn's triggered kit is pretty spot on from a performance standpoint, but a lack of speed holds some of these songs back from becoming the surging odes to animosity that they really want to be. The melodies are largely dissonant, but not overly so. Regardless, the minor-key flirtation continues from the album's very beginning until the final string ensemble notes of "The Infernal Ceremony" ring out. The aforementioned closer is where the lion's share of Sheol's keyboards reside, ultimately making this listener wish for a stronger keyboard presence elsewhere on the album. If anything, it would add some variety and take some of the inordinate pressure off of the guitars, which still nearly buckle under the album's weight even with Rydén and Olivius shrieking their way through a number of interesting lyrical themes.
Sheol sounds abhorrent enough, but is sadly let down by it's many songwriting misdirections. There just isn't enough atmosphere to fully sell the garish vituperation that Naglfar so haughtily aims for here. Check out the aforementioned killer cuts, but don't expect anything more than a well-produced, vulgar bore on the whole.
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)