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They had it all. The perfect name. The perfect themes. The perfect melodies. They had everything needed to become a household name in black metal...
This is the debut full length by Ragnarok, a band that, while not exactly unknown, is better known for two things: Their latter albums and Hoest. Which is to say, they're only better known for their latter albums. And while most people seem to like everything they did from their third album onwards, reviling their debut for being naïve and unoriginal, or disregarding it altogether as a bandwagon jumping copycat, riding the wave of success of better known bands, those responsible for the birth of the subgenre itself.
I disagree in many respects.
First off, the obvious: If a band like Nokturnal Mortum, Nargaroth or even classics like Darkthrone and Gorgoroth were to release an album that sounds exactly like this one today, it'd be revered as the saviour of the genre, a wonderful and flawless piece of true Norwegian black metal, a back-to-the-roots album, the kind of which everyone seems to love (I myself prefer progression, change and evolution, but hey, that's just me). So why was this album thoroughly ignored back when it came out? There could be a number of reasons. They weren't from Bergen or even Oslo, they didn't have the endorsement of well known names in Norwegian metal like a lot of bands did back then, and they started as a black metal band instead of making the transition from death to black, as most of the classic acts did. This could be seen as definite proof that they belong to the "second wave" of Norwegian black metal, but I can't help asking, what, exactly is wrong with that? A number of fine bands came from this second wave. Think of all the amazing debuts that came out between 1994 and 1996! From Enslaved to Borknagar to Ulver to In The Woods, from Gorgoroth to Forgotten woods to lesser known acts such as Sort Vokter and Ved Buens Ende...., even outside of Norway the genre was blossoming with the amazing debuts of bands like Falkenback, Arckanum and Summoning, to name a few. This was a very exciting moment for black metal, and since the first wave was only starting to cool down, the possibilities within the genre were endless. And it's within this context that I now move on to talk about this album. Sorry for the long introduction.
What we have here is a big chunk of true norwegian black metal that could have only been released in that particular place, during that particular period of time. But it's no regular black metal, as I've been hinting. In fact this album ends up being more adventurous and original than, say, Gorgoroth's or even Dimmu Borgir's (lay off, their first two albums are great) debut. This was, and this is no minor detail, one of the very first Norwegian black metal bands to focus on the "Norwegian" aspect of the genre. Sure, Burzum took the first step by ditching english lyrics in favour of his native tongue, and Enslaved's first two albums, both released in 1994, were arguably the beginning of Viking Black metal (not to be confused with viking metal; that honour goes to Bathory, obviously), but overall this was a period more concerned with being so evil and dark and satan and moon cemetery fog rain funeral death rargh. It was about this time when the lyrics and melodic motifs took a turn for the nordic, and Ragnarok was there, first in line along with Enslaved, Ulver and Borknagar, to bring down the hammer on satan in favour of norse themes both in the lyric department and the music department.
The guitars have a wonderful, thick and fuzzy tone, and the drums resonate with a slight echo as if from a distance. The bass follows the guitars as a hovering presence, giving the sound that extra depth which holds the music together. The use of keyboards is notable, although not overbearing, much like early Enslaved. They offer an aura of antiquity and ancestral mystery, if I'm allowed to be cheesy for a moment. The catchy and hypnotically repetitive riffs offer a different perspective on the usual minimalistic tremolos of the time, courtesy of Transylvanian Hunger (not that it was a bad thing, but it did inspire a myriad of shitty bands), both when blastbeats are a-blasting and when the midtempo passages make their appearance. These turn out to be a highlight. The composition clearly showcasing a folkloric shade that really makes the album. The sadly scarce but still remarkable use of acoustic/clean guitars, tribal drumming and wind instruments (most likely keyboards, but they work very well) only strengthens this idea.
As long as you're not part of the prejudiced crowd that has decided for some reason to hate this album, many times without having even listened to it, the moment the first metal track comes on (Pagan Land), you'll be washed away by a storm of blastbeats and memorable riffs that, along with the mid-tempo, keyboard-aided passages and epic, almost naval rhythms (that remind me of early Burzum), set the mood for most of the album. Changes in tempo are considerably constant, avoiding stagnation, and the riffs often don't change with the drumming, which makes for a very interesting phenomenon; experiencing the same riff in different tempos and sometimes time signatures. It's odd and rewarding to hear a 4/4 riff working just as nicely in 3/4, for example. The drummer knows how to keep things interesting, while playing in a very primitive and tribal-esque fashion. I love the way the toms and the snare sound, and the snare is usually an issue for me. It has to be strong enough to inject blastbeating with energy, but not too loud or too thin, because then it becomes a distraction.
Vocals, which is something I've neglected so far, are very decent. Nothing too special, of course, but they're tailor made for the music. They remind me of Hat (early Gorgoroth) but with a deeper, more growly voice. His tone blends in with the guitars rather well, helping the hypnotic mood of the music. Everything, in fact, seems to be in tune, within a very similar range, which prevents any instrument from becoming overbearing or getting lost in the mix. That is, except for the bass. It's possibly the only thing on the mix that should have been given a bit of extra volume. But then again, this was part of the course for black metal back then. It's still audible, and while it follows the guitar most of the time, it has a few interesting tricks under its sleeve. It's also crucial thanks to that extra level of depth it gives to the guitars. All it needs is an attentive listener. As do the keyboards at times. They're not exactly hidden, but they only appear during crucial times. Thankfully they're very soft and ethereal, which means tat while they're very much audible, they disturb absolutely no one. Guitars and drumming are the focus of the music overall, with vocals and keyboards working together to enrich textures and accompany the flow of the faster paced passages. The keyboards are also in charge of offering the occasional folkloric melody that either accompanies the guitar or stands by itself. This is a very important part of the album's overall spirit, as I've perhaps made clear, but will keep repeating until you fucking get it.
There's a general sense of epicness scattered along the album, especially in the last metal track, conveniently titled Ragnarok, which describes the events that are to go down after the three year winter. It's epic, addictive and fairly emotional. I dare you not to headbang to that double bass and catchy keyboards. The opener and closer are also wonderful examples of this epic, cold and utterly nordic vibe the album holds. Especially the closer, which bears the name of the album. It starts with an acoustic guitar painting a melody that could have been penned by Ruun era Enslaved, followed by a progression of tribal percussion and ethereal keyboards. Eventually after the composition reaches a climax it revers back to guitar, and then a fade out bids us farewell. It evokes a strong image of fjords and thick forests, a dark starry night illuminated by the faint glow of a dying bonfire.
I have little more to say. This band offered a flawless debut of pure, unadultered, True Norwegian Black Metal in 1995, a time when the revindication of all things nordic in metal was still a new and exciting idea, and what better place than Norway, and what better genre than black metal, to celebrate norse mythology, folklore and tradition? They had it all. The perfect name. The perfect themes. The perfect melodies. They had everything needed to become a household name in black metal. So what happened? Was it the admittedly cheesy cover art? Was the album eclipsed by the also admittedly more incredible debuts by Enslaved, Ulver and Borknagar? Personally, I like to think their ultimately unremarkable reputation lies in the fact that, after this album, they decided to throw it all away, their refined melodies, their thick ambiance, their norse impetus, in favour of relentless, brainless cheap black metal the likes of which would make Marduk and Dark Funeral blush.
For the sake of history, for the sake of black metal and in celebration of all things skaldic, please give this album a new chance. It belongs in the hall of fame of True Norwegian Black Metal.
Nattferd is the first full-length album from Ragnarok. This band was part of the wave of bands that came along following the explosion of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. As was the case with many of the other bands that emerged in 1994 and after, Ragnarok displays a lack of direction and one gets the sense that they were quite unclear on what their intentions were. Released in May 1995, on Head Not Found, Nattferd is a confusing and inconsistent affair, but not without its more notable moments.
The songwriting is rather generic, for the most part. The band utilizes a lot of ugly riffs that would have served well had they opted for a darker and more primitive approach. However, it would seem that they spread themselves a bit thin, attempting to incorporate more epic arrangements as well. Several of the songs are utterly ruined by awkward keyboard usage, making one wonder what the hell these guys were trying to do. The synth is not dark or evil at all and actually works to the detriment of the riffs. Under close scutiny, it becomes clear that the only track that survives the horrible arrangement and ridiculous synth is "Et Vinterland I Nord", which is a decent song that has more of an epic Viking Metal feeling, rather than a dark Black Metal vibe.
The production suits the material, though that is not saying much. The guitars are have sort of a raw edge, but the riffs do not really justify this type of sound. It is sort of similar to Satyricon's debut album, Dark Medieval Times. The main difference would be that the guitar sound somewhat thicker, but not by much. Drumming is a little higher than it should be, but not so much as to distract from the rest. The vocals are at the right level, and have a decent sound though not very distinctive. Everything about this screams generic and these guys were likely just big fans of the earlier Norwegian bands and had no actual vision of their own. The result was just tossing a lot of disparate elements together and creating a mess.
Nattferd may appeal to those that do not mind ridiculous synth that undermines the integrity of the guitar riffs. Though, in this case, the riffs are sub-par in the first place. There is only one passable song on here, so for that it is worth picking up if found in a discount bin. If you are the type to drool over anything from Norway, it would be wise to understand that a lot of people jumped on the Black Metal bandwagon in the mid-90s and very few of them even tried to reach the same level of quality of those that came before them. You are better off passing this up in favour of something else.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Ragnarok is yet another black metal band from Norway that released their debut when the 2nd wave of BM was flourishing. Bands like Immortal, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Gorgoroth had already left their influential mark on the scene. Although this band was not buried underneath the big bands like so many others, they failed to leave an impression with this album unlike their popular counterparts.
The guitar riffs are your typical BM affair. Hmm... how do I describe them? I guess they have the raw, repetitive, 'evil' sound to them and can be catchy. However, they are quite generic and already been done quite a bit by the year this album was released (for the most part anyway). Some riffs did show some unique qualities, like the almost war like feel of some of the riffs in Age Of Pride, but the moments given to these riffs are not nearly enough. The album is also seriously lacking in memorable guitar melodies. There are some great melodies hidden here and there, but even when they are going on, they're not really in the spotlight and are stuck in the background. I have to really struggle to listen to them.
Like some other bands that debuted after Emperor, for example Kvist, the band decided to use keyboards in their music. They are not dominant and are used occasionally. Sometimes, keyboards manage to provide a solid atmosphere but at times, they just sound really awkward. The band doesn't know which direction to take with the keyboards as they can be dark but they can also go into a weird happy, almost power metal-ish mode. I think it would've been better if the keyboards weren't there, even though it would bring down the catchiness of the album. The track Daudens Natt is particularly affected negatively by the unsatisfactory use of keyboards.
The vocals are pretty much your everyday BM vocals. The croaky, distorted, high pitched screams are something are something you've probably heard many times before, but they're done quite well. The vocalist helps to form a decent atmosphere and provides catchy vocal lines too. He doesn't show much of a range but keeps the album enjoyable. Somehow, he manages to never sound monotonous. The drum sound is kind of distant, and it works. The drumming itself, though a bit repetitive (hey, it's black metal), is quite variated compared to a lot of other old school BM. The fills are very strong, the double bass is quite good and overall, the drums do their job well.
The song structures are slightly interesting. Unexpected bursts of speed after a mid paced session and sudden slowed down, softer moments with clean chanting are two examples. The acoustic + distorted guitar intro and the weird ambient like outro are both quite unique. The production is raw, yet quite listenable. Everything is heard pretty clearly, except the bass. In Hammerens Slag, there is a small, decent bass lick and it is probably the only sign of the bassist's existence throughout the album. The overall atmosphere of the album is lacking and as there is so much repetition in the album, that it can be be quite a problem. At times the atmosphere is very strong, but this goes away very quickly and leaves me hungry for more and disappointed.
There is a reason why this album isn't as famous or hailed as much as Pentagram or In The Nightside Eclipse. Not only did bring almost nothing original to the black metal table but also failed to provide a solid and consistent atmosphere. It showed a lot of potential but the potential wasn't milked enough. However, it still an enjoyable album mainly due to a good vocalist and decent drumming. The band would improve with their future releases and work on their flaws showcased on this debut.
This is Ragnarok's debut album and holds all the tracks featured on both of their first couple of demos, so it really is a bargain to buy. Inspite of the good reviews that future Ragnarok releases enjoyed, I still consider this album to be their most epic and powerful release yet. And there is something mysterious about this album because it seems that I never get tired of listening to it (which is what inspired me to write this review in the first place). It attains this dark power that has the ability to captivate its listener's attention. The listener is not tortured for the duration of the album but is rather in a state of awe.
The music on this release ranges from mid-paced to fast. Ragnarok relies on raw guitar riffs to produce their melody and this can also be experienced on all their other releases. Ragnarok had been able to utilize this technique to its utmost on "Nettferd" while on future releases this technique diminishes a little in utility but stays intact. Ragnarok also doesn't shy away from throwing in a few keyboard melodies in several tracks only to establish a certain tempo or riff they're about to play. The first three tracks are great openers and really portray the power that Ragnarok are able to harness. I can only describe them as flawless notes of Black Metal music and their riffs are so catchy that you'll still find yourself recalling them hours after you've listened to the album for the first time (... a feat that is rare and never found on mediocre albums).
The lyrics are simplistic in nature (quite like the music itself in a sense) but fit the atmosphere of the album perfectly. In fact, I can't imagine they could have come up with any better lyrical themes. On "The Age of Pride" , Thyme sings "In the time of swords and axes, In this Eeried Ogre time, When martial men ravage on earth, When the forest was dark and sombre, And the Northern fighting spirit was alive ... alive, Time of swords and axes, Age of pride ..." and on "Daudens Natt" , Thyme exclaims in his Norwegian tongue : "De kristne går opp på Noregs Fjell og trot de eier vårt Faderland, Tida skal komme der dauden kaller på lysets sjeler, De kristnes skjebne..." which roughly means : "the Christian has travelled across the Noregs Mountain and with his faith occupied our mother-land , only time shall come to call onto their illuminated souls , the Christians doom ..." and this depicts Ragnarok's Anti-Christian and Pagan-proud orientation and they are able to allign it perfectly with their music.
Highlight of the album has got to be the 5th track: "Daudens Natt". If I had a friend come up to me and tell me that he wants to know what True Norwegian Black Metal sounds like and I had to choose a single song to represent this entire genre I would pull ot my "Nattferd" disc and play "Daudens Natt" for him. This track is as cold and grim and pagan and Anti-Christian as it gets. And despite all this Ragnarok was skillfully able to insert several melodies as "Daudens Natt" was closing. Even though you will be able to pick up some Viking elements as you listen to "Nattferd", this release is far from adhering to the Viking Metal genre and remains to be raw Norwegian Black Metal at its purest forms.
The only complaint about this album is its artwork; very poor and doesn't fit the album's epic atmosphere. Also, surprisingly the outro to this album is the title track and does not fit very well as a closing track. It should have been placed as the Intro. Indeed the actual intro to this album sounds as an outro and it seems that the mixer should have switched these tracks. But these are minor details that don't even come close to tarnishing "Nettferd"'s grand package. This album has truly touched my soul (and almost gave me frostbite) and I invite/encourage all Black Metal fans to acquire this album (one way or the other) because it really is a black gem of mystical powers and seasons.