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After a couple of demos, Pagan Hammer unleashes their first full-length through Nokturnal Transmissions Records in an outrageously unlimited 123 copies; I foresee in the future this little EP selling for ridiculous prices on Ebay in a couple years, at least if there's any justice left in the world. Pagan Hammer has perfected their droning, epic black metal, releasing what will almost certainly be the best debut of 2008, and easily the best black metal album of the year so far. Part of the reason I'm so excited by this is that, while the demos were pretty good, this release capitalized on everything that made the demos so good and took it all to the next level.
For the uninitiated, Pagan Hammer is epic, ambient, droning black metal influenced by Animus and other similar artists, but is not as minimal. The riffs are powerfully melancholic, but never get too overblown or cheesy, and the songs maintain enough variation to keep the listener interested. There is not a single bad riff on this album, which is a rarity in any genre, but especially black metal, like the previous reviewer noted. Even more rare for black metal, some of the riffs even got my head nodding; Pagan Hammer have displayed how to make even a genre as musically unfirendly as depressive black metal accessive and memorable. I seriously can't get over how fitting the riffs are for the music, and just how good they are. They personify the epic feel that PH are going for with this album perfectly.
Vocals, like all good ambient black metal, are pushed far to the rear of the music and are quite sparse. Naturally, they are drenched in reverb, just the way I like it. The vocals are more a raspy whisper than a shriek, for which I am thankful; in this type of music, vocals are just one more layer, and should not be over-the-top like some of our depressive friends, who shall not be mentioned. Drums are nothing overly showy or spectacular, but are rather support to the guitar. Drums plod along as expected, never allowing themselves to distract from the central focus of the album.
Adding to what makes this album so good is the quite original concept. If the cover art and title did not clue you in (or the fact it was released on the anniversary of the day the iconic photo on the album cover was taken), this is an homage to those who fought and died in WWII long ago. Although there are no lyrics provided, the visual package and the song titles make it fairly clear what the content of the songs is. For black metal, this is a highly unusual topic for lyrics that generally deal with one of three things: Anti-Christianity, Suicide, or an immature concept of "war." The concept is original, and suits the epic yet melancholy nature of the music.
This short EP packs some of the absolute best mournful, epic black metal I have ever heard. I expect great things from this project. This album is an early contender for being the top black metal album of the year; we will see if the final Leviathan album or the new Nortt album (which I have just gotten in the mail but have yet to listen to) can match this upstart from North Carolina. Absolutely amazing.
Seriously, this was far beyond my expectations. This is seriously some great black metal, and I don’t just say that about any black metal act. I have listened to a lot of shitty underground black metal and If this was shitty I would let you know. I am really excited about this band, and there is a lot to be excited about.
One thing that makes this album so great is the riffs. These riffs range from mournful and full of emotion to triumphant and are always memorable. There is almost no weak riffs on this album and that’s amazing for a black metal band these days. One thing I really love is that when this band has a great riff it isn’t afraid to milk it. Some bands get afraid that if they play a riff to many time people will get tired of it. Look at Burzum’s Det Som En Gang Var, it has about 3 riffs yet it captivates you for 14 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, droning on and on doesn’t work with some riffs, but with these riffs it definitely does. It builds atmosphere. There are also some beautiful and emotional lead parts in the album that blend with the music nicely.
The drums on this album are also quite good. Sure he doesn’t destroy you with technical ability, and he definitely shouldn’t. The drums support the riffs. That’s all they do, as they should. I’m not saying there is a lack of variation, black metal masterpieces have been build on less variation that this album has. What I’m saying is that the drums don’t try to dominate the music. Trust me, it’s a good thing.
The vocals are well performed and add to the overall feel of the music. Not really much to talk about in the vocal section. Nothing special, but they get the job done.
Great riffs, atmosphere and some beautiful lead parts, what more could one ask for? Over 90% of black is shitty trash acts, but Pagan Hammer is in the top 10% for sure. That’s being modest, they may be even in the top 1% of black metal. Recommended to anyone who considers himself a fan of black metal.