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The title of this has double meaning; obviously, firstly, it refers to the return of Satanic Warmaster and secondly the feel it gave me reminded me of Bathory's "The Return", if only in comparison to SW's last full-length, the ungodly brilliant "Karelian Satanist Madness". Whereas the production on the aforementioned "KSM" was quite crisp and ripping while still being raw, the sound on this newest is a seemingly huge step backward in quality and history. But is it?
Obviously Satanic Tyrant Werwolf, or whatever he's calling himself today, knows the ins and outs of production technique, and thereby has purposely created this dense miasma of murky buzzing...in fact, it is proudly stated on the album that it was recorded entirely on an analogue 4 track device! However, while sounding very primitive there is an amount of subcontext within the music that is really satisfying. After all, nobody is going to be buying a Satanic Warmaster album expecting a lush pageant of symphonic wonderment, they should be expecting nothing but hateful black metal done in a style that pays homage to the beginning of the movement. For many, this is stagnant and not innovative, but for many others it fills the void left by all the more critically revered innovators. Hell, if you like a style of music, you like it and don't WANT it to mutate into some faggy prog crap!
It is pointless to try to explain the songs; they are all within the same framework of any other SW material: very cool guitar riffs and rhythms, some clanking real drums, a purported bass guitar lurking somewhere in the machinegunfactorywork of death, and the utterly vitriolic scraping of tombstones that serve as the vocals. While not unique in any way, these are all top-notch ingredients for SW's black metal stew. And, let's not forget the weird, primitive, yet tastefully employed keyboards which surface now and again to lend an eerie melody...as you can imagine, they are NOT in the forefront. I will say that the songs themselves are not as "catchy" as on "Strength and Honour" or "Karelian Satanic Madness", but I think they are quite a bit better than on "Opferblut", but that is my opinion and I know it will vary with others.
The cover art is, at first, kind've goofy looking, but upon further inspection reveals an excellent pen-and-ink technique, and after a while you realize it is really great. There are some pithy photos within, as well as lyrics. My version was the first release of Werewolf Records, and is designated "Evil-One" (kind've cool and/or amusing). This is also---supposedly only on first printings---a "gold disc" (the disc itself is gold plastic). Who know what future pressings will be like?
The production on here does set it vaguely apart from other SW releases, though it will sound familiar to longtime black metal enthusiasts; it has a real demo-sounding quality to it, complete with tape-hiss. As I said before, I'm certain it was calculated to sound exactly like this, and really achieves a dark wave of nocturnal gloom...again, very much in the flavour of Bathory's "The Return", although we all know that one was unintentional! Rest assured, you are able to hear everything very well, but almost as if listening through a swarm of poisonous insects. Despite all these decriptors, it is not one of those "tinny" sounding albums, there is a thickness seething below the buzzing. It is enigmatically sharp yet murky. This isn't a heavy album you can really crank on your stereo, more like something to listen to right before sunrise, something you use to keep it darker for just a bit longer. But do try to play it loud, especially if you have neighbours who scare easily! This is not for casual black metal listeners who no doubt prefer the pristine productions of late-period Emperor or Dark Funeral, this is for those who pine for the sometimes inadvertent masterpieces of dark art from the olden times. Yes, it is done purposely. Yes, it is nothing new. But, YES, it is really cool! This will in no way convert the naysayers who insist on bashing SW as worthless and even trendy, but it will greatly satisfy their existing fans as well as anyone who wants to pick up a modern example of how things used to be. Hey, if you like the sound and the songs, what does it matter if Satanic Warmaster are "originators" or not?