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Fantastic, of course - 96%

OakenHelm, October 12th, 2008

Fanboy alert: I love everything Pagan Hammer has done, and find this band to be the best band to come out of the US in quite some time, so if you don't want to hear me gushing, just stop right now and buy this. As further proof of how much of a fanboy I am, I already own both demos and the split tape that constitutes the majority of this compilation, and bought it anyway (partially because I no longer have access to a tape player, and the tracks from the split with Frost are probably the best material here anyway) because of the 2 bonus tracks.

This compilation allows you to see this great project develop from the very beginning; you get all material released before the "Ode To My Fathers" opus (aside from the cover tracks, which were never quite as good as the original material anyway), packaged in a nice DVD-case with great, if typical, artwork. For those not in the know, Pagan Hammer is droning, epic, ambient black metal with minimalist, heavily reverbed vocals, but the defining characteristic (aside from amazing riffing) is that the production is a lot fuller and bassier than the norm, which really helps the excellent riffing stand out. Comparable artists would be Animus, Burzum (of course) and Drudkh. Pagan Hammer's music isn't so much harsh as it is very epic and somber; there's a distinctly majestic vibe present in all of the material, but it never gets pretentious or overblown; the music is very honest and doesn't pretend to be something that it is not. Even from the beginning Pagan Hammer has been surprisingly mature in scope; none of the cliches about black metal excess are remotely present.

Reviewing the material present is fairly redundant; simply read the reviews of the demos and split to get an idea of the individual tracks, though I will say the material from the split with Frost is the strongest (and most clearly Drudkh-influenced) of the bunch. Pagan Hammer's music hasn't so much evolved as been refined and given better production over time, and the chronological ordering of the tracks makes that abundantly clear. Even in the earliest days Pagan Hammer was an excellent project, and the few real negatives (the vocals being too loud on the Pagan Wolves demo, for instance) have been completely removed. Pagan Hammer stands out for being the only black metal band I know of where literally every riff is powerful and interesting; nothing ever feels like filler with this project.

The two unreleased tracks are solid Pagan Hammer tracks. The trademark bassy guitar tone is present, and since I can't get enough of that sound, that's a definite plus for me. The whispered vocals are new, but they're pretty buried so the effect gets a little lost, but they're used pretty sparingly so it doesn't really matter. I like the bridge in "Vampyric Moonlight" when everything drops away to let the melodic (yet still buzzy) guitar take over for a little while. Vocals are the heavily reverbed, distant rasp I've come to expect aside from that odd whispering segment, so no complaints there either.

While Pagan Hammer could certainly be accused of releasing very similar sounding material (mostly due to the production), the strength of the material alone is enough to quiet the dissenters. On the surface each song is superficially similar, but closer listening reveals the subtle nuances that separates each song. What we have is nothing less than amazing, riff-centric ambient black metal. Pagan Hammer are the future of the underground, and if you weren't lucky enough to get the demos themselves, this is the next best thing. If you even remotely enjoy black metal, this project demands your attention. A mandatory purchase.