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Comprised of material written between 1998 and 2001, recorded in 2002, and released in 2007, Octagon's Death Fetish is a rollicking good time as traditional black metal goes, maintaining the grainy, black-and-white atmosphere requisite of the genre while managing to twist and turn just enough to wrestle free of orthodoxy's thrall. Here are six pieces (and an introductory track) of oddly infectious, rhythmically buoyant, melodically dynamic music drenched in the murk of lo-fi production, punchy little numbers all, creating in sum a marked identity despite the hallmarks of Darkthrone and Burzum worship. Yes, we'll find the tremolo strumming and fading signal flare leadwork of the former band, and the melodic breakaways and rusting arpeggios of the latter, but we're likewise treated to personality and spontaneity, characteristics seemingly shunned in these circles. In fact, where the aforementioned Norwegian giants' songs took their time in alternating between themes, Octagon's travel breezily, effortlessly among passages that seem inevitably linked. Surely this is the sign of good craftsmen. Mortigan, the core of this band -- which on this release only featured one other member, Krimson, the drummer -- clearly is a student of black metal, with an ear for musicality. To tried-and-true phrases of the genre he adds his own flair, part of which is pacing and part of which is ordering ideas. Nothing sounds forced or random, even if nothing sounds revolutionary, either. It's a comfortable listen, this album.
Driving, dirty riffs are complemented by drumming that both blasts and swings; both of these components are rhythmically intense and involved, creating a sense of momentum only enhanced by the tension and release of the songwriting. There's a dynamism at work that makes many moments seem poignant. Admittedly, due to the sullen nature of the riffs and the overall production, this variety isn't blatant, but such trickery is part of black metal's charm.
There is an oddball on the album, however: the seven and a half minute instrumental "Her Fettered Wings," which, while not totally a misstep, seems a bit bloated and meandering. It has in its galloping undercurrent and cycling of themes and variations an Iron Maiden kind of sensibility; it's not bad, merely awkward. Its ideas would've made a fine song alongside the others, with vocals and condensed into the usual three or four minutes. As it is it sounds like a black metal jam session.
From what I can gather of the lyrical content, rather than blaspheming against a god, Mortigan has chosen to oppose conventional morality. The message -- not to mention the artwork -- concerns itself with behavior deemed aberrant by the social police. Images of BDSM abound, and according to an interview, Mortigan indeed lives the lifestyle publicized via Octagon. Apparently he's quite the avid photographer. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more.
Regarding the old school style, good black metal, much like good death metal, is capable of sounding like something emerging from a freshly penetrated crypt. Death Fetish lives up to that. While at times sounding almost merry and exuberant, it never fully exposes itself to the light, thus remaining obscure and defiant. In the spirit of black metal, it's quite good, whatever that's worth in today's marketplace of ideas.