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Ragnarok has never been a band to push the envelope within the realms of black metal. Known more for consistent material that rarely lets down expectations or intensity, this Norwegian act has been trudging along since the glory days of second wave black metal. While the only original member left at this point is drummer, Jontho, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that there has been a perpetual shift in membership since the band’s inception. Aside from certain nuances and aspects, there have never been any huge changes in Ragnarok’s sound and delivery and “Malediction”, the band’s seventh release, is no different.
If you’ve ever listened to Ragnarok then you know exactly what to expect. “Malediction” may be slightly less abrasive and a tad more technical than their recent output “Collectors of the King” and “Blackdoor Miracle” but it still follows the same formula of those albums. Ragnarok’s music can best be described as no frills second wave black metal: fast, vehement and pretty much nonstop. After a brief symphonic intro, Jontho’s drums and Bolverk’s guitars take off, and in typical Ragnarok fashion, don’t let up until the album is over. The vast, vast, vast majority of this album is blast beats and technical trem picking. The bass and drums are up close and personal, as the rhythm section has been afforded a lovely place in the mix which is higher than most black metal acts. The bass is thick and thundering and goes well with the nonstop barrage of blast beats. One thing is for sure here, drummer Jontho is no slouch because, while the album is pretty an endless barrage of faster than hell blast beats, he manages to throw in fills and rolls which are actually faster than the initial drum beat. Bolverk’s guitar work, while more technical than previous Ragnarok output, still follows the same formula of trem picked intensity, but with more melody in the chord choices. Make no mistake, this is still intense, but there is a stark beauty in the chord choices for the trem picking. Rather than having a constant, forty-five minute blast of seething black metal, a few outside elements shift in and out to add some much needed head space. From the hammering rhythmic power chord strikes during “Iron Cross – Posthumous” to the traditionally styled lead work on “Dystocratic”, Bolverk adds some dynamic to the music while the rest of the band continues to blast forth on all cylinders. Melodic minor key segments, similar to Marduk, appear here and there, again helping to break the blasting intensity. HansFyrste provides vocals on “Malediction” with his raspy and seething, but slightly throaty and guttural vocal lines. His performance is good, but not unlike the countless droves of black metal singers out there.
“Malediction” is pretty much the embodiment of Ragnarok’s career: intense, blasting and unrelenting. Aside from the brief segues courtesy of Bolverk, there is pretty much one speed. All instruments are performed exceptionally well: the drums are blistering and nonstop and the guitars are technical and intense. The production is surprisingly clean for this blasting, unrelenting black metal style, but it works to Ragnarok’s advantage as the technical nuances are more prominent. “Malediction” is in no way a reinvention of the wheel, but it should please fans of fast and unrelenting black metal. A lot of bands play this style but few can pull it off as well and as consistent as Ragnarok.
Writen for The Metal Observer:
We have another album by the almighty Norwegians, the second since their long hiatus. While it was a huge letdown for the first few listens, it only needed time to find its place among the band's other releases.
The album starts out with a short symphonic intro as part of Blood of Saints. Don't let this fool you though, they haven't returned to their symphonic sound, nor have they continued the path of Collectors of the King. The addition of Bolverk changed both the overall sound and the songwriting. Both remind the listener to the works of Svarttjern (and to Mortuus-era Marduk to some extent), the fact of both bands sharing the same vocalist just empowers this impression. The only typical about this album is the unique drumming style of Jontho, which hasn't changed much since Diabolical Age where it was first utilized.
The album won't hesitate for long and just kicks your ass with the first song. It's not much like anything the band has ever released but it clearly has its drive. All songs have one or more riffs that the listener is likely to get a taste for, some of them being imported from outside black metal. The most prominent example of the latter is the pre-verse riff of Necromantic Summoning Ritual, which would fit any power metal song. The first highlight of the album is the middle section of the fourth song (Divide et Impera), which goes back to the full-length In Nomine Satanas. The next outside influence can be heard in Dystocratic, the song starts out with a guitar solo with a style not to be expected it this genre; this is also the best song of this release. For its second half the album becomes even stronger with all songs having one or more great riffs.
Should you get this album? Before this was released my reply to this question would have been an automatic yes (we are talking about Ragnarok after all). While the album is quite enjoyable, it was their first release that was disappointing at the first listen. Give it time, your opinion about it might change as mine did and I'm not the type who loves previously hated albums.
(originally written for http://csehszlovakze.blogspot.com/)
Norwegian black metal band Ragnarok has released a steady stream of records despite the numerous shifts in the lineup that the band has encountered in its history. Amongst all releases, while Blackdoor Miracle stands as one of my personal favourites with Hoest handling vocals, Hansfyrste has also proven himself to be a capable member of the band with Collectors of the King, injecting a nice dose of brutality and intensity with his inclusion since 2008. This year’s Malediction sees the band including yet another new member, Bolverk, and it leaves one to wonder if the band will be able to top the masterpiece that was Collectors of the King.
With a new guitarist then, it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if there is a slight shift in the musical style of the band, and with Blood of Saints this is immediately noticeable. Whether it is the inclusion of Bolverk or otherwise, something seems to be different compared to the abrasive Collectors of the King, though the aggression that Ragnarok has been known for hasn’t reduced at all. The high-tension, trem-picked riffs present a more melodic feel to the music, though at the same time he includes a higher sense of technicality as well, with the complex riffs that intertwine with those melodic ones right from the start. Furthermore, Hansfyrste, like his works on the recent Svarttjern release, has also adopted that similar style over here, registering a slightly higher pitched, tortured growl giving a savage touch to the music. The combination of his newer vocal style and the playing style of Bolverk at times give a somewhat desolate atmosphere in the music, like on Demon in My View, expanding the sounds of Ragnarok.
What made albums like Collectors of the King such a charm for me was the brutal drumming of Jontho, and the extremely high mix of the drums that ensure that the listener’s ears are punished in full. Unfortunately, in this department on Malediction there is some slight disappointment. Make no mistake, Jontho’s drumming is still as savage as ever, and he punishes his skin with wrath, yet the mix doesn’t really do it justice, causing it to lack the power that it had on Collectors of the King.
The combination of the inclusion of new guitarist Bolverk, who has a rather different style from previous guitarists, the vocals of Hansfyrste and the songwriting direction has resulted in a pretty different sounding record from before. Rather than take a straightforward, in-your-face path that has been tried and tested on previous records, the band explores some different directions on Maledictions, evident from tracks like Necomantic Summoning Ritual and the intro of Dystocratic, giving off a somewhat different vibe than before. Sure, some fans may be alienated from this slightly altered direction of the band, but underlying that, the intensity that the band emanates is still undeniably characteristic of Ragnarok.
Ragnarok have been steady underdogs in the Norwegian black metal scene for years now, having surfaced late in the mid-90’s and steadily plugging away since then with a number of strong, if somewhat indistinct releases. Not that one could ever accuse the group of lacking for passion or talent, mind you, but their brand of vitriol has never been one to stray far from the core of the blackened flock. Malediction, in primal essence, does not betray this faithful adherence to archetype, and continues to focus on refinement over reinvention. Thus, your opinion of it will largely depend on what you’re looking for. Innovation is not a key characteristic of Malediction, but if you’re fine with a well-produced storm of savagery and don’t shy away from strong incorporation of vibrant, if still patently evil and unrepentantly punishing melody, this will be right up your alley. I’m reminded strongly of the militaristic pacing of 1349 circa Hellfire, with equal emanations of Dark Funeral in reference to integration of said melodies, and perhaps a touch of Gaahl-era Gorgoroth to the sheer madness of it all, a variety of influences which I enjoy quite a bit. Indeed, the core ideas here can all be traced back to myriad groups within the blackened dominion, but what matters is application, and in this respect Ragnarok continue to strive ever forward, inspired and hateful, if rarely surprising.
Despite being almost constantly in attack mode, there are subtle undercurrents of plodding heavy metal beats and swinging, carnal grooves that offset what would otherwise be a non-stop downpour of blast-beats. The word subtle in this context, however, is of the utmost importance, as Malediction is a truly forceful record. The natural structure of the riffing, though universally diabolical in essence, lends itself well to memory, as there are clear-cut lines in typical verse-chorus format. Not so much that it feels cut-and-paste, but enough so that the subsections feel distinct in the context of each song, and the chosen progressions flow well into each other, lending favorable imagery of apocalyptic tornadoes, blood-splattered warriors, and the obligatory rolling of Christian heads. I find this makes the songs easy to comprehend, though the distinctions start blurring as one gets deeper into the record, and a sense of sameness begins to invade a portion of the material. If you’re not accustomed to such frenetic pacing, it can feel a bit overbearing to sit through 45 minutes of this, but such a circumstance is hardly the fault of the band. Indeed, they have their target audience pinned perfectly, and though there is admittedly a pretty wide selection of bands that fit within this niche, Ragnarok provide a pretty forceful, compelling experience here. It might be worth noting that Ragnarok have had a pretty significant restructuring of late, with only drummer Jontho remaining from the original line-up, and indeed the only member pre-2008. I’ve not delved too deeply into the past chronicles of Ragnarok (though I do possess them), just a spin or two each, but this might be interesting for more hardcore fans of the band to contrast and compare.
Did I mention the sound here is fantastic? Well it is. The instrumental balance here is perfect, and even though the spindly, clanging bass tone of also-singer DezeptiCunt , whose serpentine snarls add a favorable flavor of hatred, could have been a bit more full and resonant, it remains audible and impressive, sometimes even tangential in its wanderings. I was also suitably flattened by the performance of Jontho himself, who proves his experience with an attention to detail and propensity for fills that belies the often break-neck pacing. He finds a way to provide covert additions to even the most straight-forward of beats, and I found focusing on his performance very satisfying. The real star, however, is the riffing, the injection of fire that gives life to the storm. While not all riffs are created equal here on Malediction, there are few, if any, that could be considered lacking, and they make good use of spacing between notes. This is not solely a tremolo hatefuck, though that aspect is certainly prevalent. My favorite parts were the more spacious, vibrant melodies, as they just imbue more feeling than the blasting, but taken together, it’s a complimentary dichotomy. It must be noted that there are some rare moments of genius here, where the fibrous, tenebrous rancor of the riffing pounds out a tower that surpasses the rest of the material. These manifest in some truly memorable, exciting tracks such as Necromantic Summoning Ritual and The Elevenfold Seal, but crop up in numerous other excursions, imbuing some extra excitement throughout. Though not incredibly prevalent, these moments lead me to believe that Ragnarok could create something truly immortal, given the right collection of cosmic circumstances.
Malediction is just what you might expect from Ragnarok, for better or worse. It’s celeritous, stormy, and violent, shining with audible clarity and thirsting for religious blood, and a certain portion of the black metal populace will eat this up. One could argue, and with a degree of truth, that there are a great many bands who cater to this demographic, but to be fair, Ragnarok precede most of them. And that experience shows here, despite the relative youth of some of its members, in an all-around professional release. There is absolutely nothing experimental or revolutionary about Malediction, but that’s not its aim, and it packs a satisfying, blazingly vitriolic punch that carries out its intended mission with passion and fury. Not every song here is a home run of memorability, but they grow on you through repeated exposure, and when sitting in the eye of these whirling, necrotic melodies and basking in the raw talent of this cadre of corpse-painted killers, it’s hard not to appreciate the forces at work here.
-Left Hand of Dog
Ragnarok is a Norwegian black metal band that dates back to 1994, jumping into the scene with other underground favourites such as Kampfar, Dodheimsgard and Windir. The band stuck to the more straight forward black metal approach of the time, focusing on the treble heavy, tremolo riffing (akin to a hive of bees on crack), shrieked vocals, low-fi production standards and the cold grimness of Norway itself. But while the band never really managed to break the surface of the lower tiers (but still a tier mind you!) of Norwegian black metal, the groups underground support has allowed them to trudge on through the ages to the present day with their 7th release, Malediction.
To be honest, not a whole lot has changed with Ragnarok’s sound over the years, bar a few things. For instance there seems to be a little bit of a liberal use of other metal elements, such as the opening track Blood of Saints which has riffs breaking into a frenzy of chuggy, rhythmic blasts, somewhat akin to technical death metal, or the song Dystocratic, which opens with a soaring, melodic dual lead guitar lick, not unlike one heard from Iron Maiden. Some melodic death metal elements find their way into this record as well, with some At the Gates-inspired harmonized, buzz-saw tremolo riffing dominating at some points as well. For the most part however, the riffs stick to the aforementioned Norwegian style: fast, shrieky and blasphemous, albeit with a heavier, modern production and some more recent sounding melodies/anti-melodies. For the most part the riffs shoot to evoke an ominous, sinister and foreboding feeling from the listener, but at times it also plays with epic, triumphant and even fun sounding riff/bar chord progressions. The drums are chaotic and in even more of a frenzy than the riffs, being more or less a machine of blast beats, double-bass kicks and other mechanically fast rhythms complimenting the cacophony. With the blistering speeds of the guitar from newcomer Bolverk, and founder Jonotho’s drumming pummelling the speakers, it’s clear that these two form the backbone of the band’s sound, with vocalist Hansfryth doing his part in narrating the blasphemous chaos with his mid-range, guttural shrieks.
As I mentioned before, Ragnarok no longer ascribe to the low-fi, terrible production values that is present on almost every black metal record up until 1996, but then again most bands nowadays have shed that as well. That being said, this record isn’t without some flaws in that regard. They mainly lie in the drums, as most of the time the trebly, high pitched guitars drown out the drum blasts that give them their punch, and considering they’re going for moshing, rhythmic black metal instead of atmospheric, grim black metal this does the music a disservice.
In terms of moods, this is where the record really drops the ball. As I mentioned before, this record didn’t mind throwing in the occasional outside metal influence, including that of Iron Maiden/epic metal, but the problem with this was that in most of the contexts that it was used, it didn’t work. It’s not like black metal and epic-ness don’t work together, they can, but the thing is it’s difficult to add in little passages of epic-ness to blasphemous black metal just out of the blue, especially one that goes for a threatening, sinister approach most of the time. These epic, triumphant and dare I say, cheery bits show up occasionally through the record and really just cause your nose to curl up in confusion whenever you hear them. They’re never really set so that they compliment the blasphemy, and it always seems as a random mood cutaway to an uncomplimentary destination.
I really don’t know what sort of approach they were taking with this, as it’s mostly sinister black metal, but it also tries to be catchy, brutal, epic and melodic, all at different points and without ever really expanding on them in a meaningful way. The transitions into these points were not fluid whatsoever and every time the mood would swing, it felt like the record skipped a little bit.
At the end, there’s definitely enough catchy, general black metal riffing to keep any fan of the style from shutting it off, but it’s just not anything you haven’t heard before, and not done in a particularly effective way either. Malediction goes by and while there may be an enjoyable moment here and there on each song, a vast majority of the time the riffs would either be mildly alien and awkward, enjoyable but unnotable or plain boring. There’s a little bit of evil atmosphere created here but in the end this record is just inoffensive and nothing to write home about.
(Originally written for AXIS OF METAL as Adam Korchok http://axisofmetal.com/2012/09/ragnarok-malediction-review/)
Time flies, fashions change. Most bands behind Norwegian black metal second wave have disappeared or have profoundly changed their stylistic approach. Now, only a few veterans continue their voyage in uncompromising dark metal lands. And among them are members of Ragnarok. This band has an unlikely career, as it is punctuated by all kind of events, from many line-up changes to a record label bankruptcy (Regain Records). However, after eighteen chaotic years, this quartet from Oslo is inflicting us a seventh album called Malediction.
Ragnarok music has its roots in the heart of the hardest (and less subtle) Norwegian black metal and it is certainly not the new album that will change this perception. This is a violent maelstrom, a veritable anger manifesto. Compositions rely primarily on efficiency and do not bother use any vanguard effects or other refinements. Most of the songs revolve around a bass / drums couple which produces a very fast tempo leaving no respite for the listener. As soon as the tiny Blood of Saints’ intro ends, shelling operated by Jontho, the last member of the original formation, begins and will not stop until forty-five minutes later.
Guitar playing is also very strong and can even – sometimes – take some small unexpected directions, such as the typically heavy introduction of Dystocratic, which seems to come from a 1980s album. Otherwise, chords are linked at a frantic pace, supported by successions of higher notes that create a typical Norwegian ambience. Finally, a word on the excellent guttural performance done by HansFyrste, who proves again that he belongs to Scandinavian black metal howler’s elite. His aggressive and harsh voice fits perfectly with band’s style, adding an extra rawer and nastier dimension.
Production is impeccable and has a very clear and cutting sound, apart a little annoying detail on Divide et Impera. A series of high notes played on the guitar are producing a « pew-pew » reminiscent of a bird’s cry! I do not know if it is a mixing problem, or a digital conversion default, but the result is rather unusual on an album of this nature. But maybe I’m just too sensitive.
I sincerely hope that this new album will get Ragnarok to reach the fame level that should be theirs after all these years. True to their roots, perpetuating the Norwegian legend, members of this band are releasing again a powerful record at the height of their reputation. Their imminent coming in North America is probably a Götterdämmerung harbinger. Well, the sooner the better! 8/10
Originally written for Métal Obscur.
Though I've no doubts Ragnarok are one of the most consistent of Norway's lesser known 90s black metal veterans, my interest in the band started to wane after their 1997-2000 material, the peak of which was their incredibly satisfying sophomore Arising Realm, on which the songwriting was simply fantastic. In the interim, they released one pretty decent record with 2004's Blackdoor Miracle, but the others have seem to have flown in one ear and spat back out the other. Part of this is that Ragnarok have never been known for having the most distinct style among their countrymen. Musicality and aggression have never exactly been the band's kryptonite; they excel in both areas, but where groups like Burzum, Emperor, Enslaved and Ulver had unique traits which spun their immortal legacies, Ragnarok had a little bit of this and a little of that to bring to the table.
That said, what they do, they have almost always done quite well, and Malediction, their 7th and latest full length, coming two years after Collectors of the King, is a colossal, crashing and competent excursion into the band's insidious grandeur, melding together elements of most of their prior releases into a bright, savage display of atmospheric carnage. Nihilistic floods of dense chords are strewn with diabolic tremolo picked passages, while the hammering blast beats hurl the earth asunder in seismic fits. Ragnarok plays loudly, and it plays abrasively. This black metal is meant to scrape at the foundations of Heaven until the clouds cower from the incendiary onslaught. Subtlety and nuance are not expressions in the Norwegians' vocabulary; they storm and swagger and then storm some more until your face caves in. Not that this is some mere, simplistic bludgeoning, there are enough moments of atmosphere and variation permeating the blitzkrieg to keep the audience from growing exhausted, from the symphonic ambiance that heralds opener "Blood of Saints" to the twisting, glorious harmonies that inaugurate "Dystocratic". The bass is repulsive and grimy, and the vocals, while nothing out of the ordinary, are gruesome, direct, and leave a trail of angels' blood in their wake.
There are indeed some great tracks here, in particular "Divide et Impera" with its hostile interchange of punchy bass lines and death-like tremolo riffing; or the more melodic twists woven into tracks like "Sword of Damocles" and "The Elevenfold Seal" which pay homage to the great Swedish black metal of the mid 90s. But in the end, I felt like the album was divided up between truly inspired passages and then others that felt as if they were just more of the same. Being someone almost genetically programmed to enjoy this style, I definitely had a fonder reaction to Malediction than Collectors of the King, but ultimately I wasn't entirely mesmerized by its ghastly procession. It's a spirited work, with no signs of aging or slowing down creeping into the joints of longtime thunderer Jontho, and the vaulted sense of magnificence that often characterized earlier records from Emperor, Dark Funeral, Gehenna, Marduk, Gorgoroth and 1349. In no way a disappointment if you're a frenzied, long term fan of their sound, but it doesn't really graft anything new onto the established formula. Good stuff, certainly, but not their best.