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Red For Fire by Norwegian progressive duo Solefald was one of the most widely acclaimed black metal releases of 2005, and now they present its sequel Black For Death, concluding the saga of Icelandic skald (court poet) Bragi, banished from Reykjavík for his affair with the queen, and his outlaw wanderings in the wilderness, his inner struggles and encounters with creatures from Nordic mythology. (Incidentally, this narrative was written by Solefald’s vocalist Cornelius and has no connection to the historical poet Bragi Boddason, who lived in Sweden – Viking-age Iceland never had a monarchy.)
As the band stated when Red For Fire was released, "Solefald was experimenting when everybody was being true. Now that… we've pushed the experiment quite far already, we wanted Red For Fire and Black For Death to be our attempts at being true. This will be a true Nordic Viking Metal album." Well, yes and no – Solefald’s take on ‘truth’ is pretty experimental by most people’s standards.
‘Red For Fire, Black For Death’ opens with violin and cello before launching into a maelstrom of black metal guitar and drums, with a refrain of “deathlike silence” – surely a sly reference to the record label founded by the ill-fated Euronymous. Throughout the album, violin and cello do much of the work usually allotted to keyboards in this kind of symphonic black metal, and other unorthodox elements include the noir jazz sax of ‘Underworld’ and ‘Dark Waves Dying’, the Queen-like (no, honestly!) clean choral vocals of ‘Allfathers’, the baroque keyboards of ‘Necrodyssey’ and orchestral and spoken-word interludes.
The album’s strong narrative thrust reminded me of Bathory’s Blood On Ice, but musically the strongest resemblances are to Borknagar (unsurprising, as Solefald drummer Lazare is ex-Borknagar, and Garm of Ulver and Borknagar contributes vocals to ‘Loki Trickster God’), Arcturus, Peccatum or late Emperor. There’s plenty of metal in here, but Solefald make you work for it.
Black For Death is an ambitious, monumental opus demanding open-minded attention. Truth is not the only virtue.
This album contains the loveliness of the musical melodies and production of Red for Fire, and the more or less consistent storyline, but less of the musical continuity, which really lets the album down. A quarter of the tracks on this album are instrumentals or poems. It really ruins the pace, much like being stuck in some kind of musical traffic jam.
Aside from that, those instrumentals and poems are consistent with the overall narrative and aesthetic (despite the daring use of saxophone as was used on Sun I Call on Red for Fire, which again works surprisingly well). The actual songs have some truly wonderful moments, like Cornelius’ tortured voice on Queen in the Bay of Smoke, what I have heard being described as a rather Queen-like vibe on Allfathers, and Trickster G/Garm’s guest on Loki Trickster God, basically the same tune as White Frost Queen from Red for Fire, but beautifully reworked by Garm.
This is not necessarily a poor album, but it is somewhat limited when considered on its own merits. If you wish to purchase this album, buy Red for Fire first, then you can view the two albums as two parts of a great saga and excellent presentation.
The album, Black For Death (An Icelandic Odyssey Part II), by Solefad begins and ends in an epic blast of folk-reminiscent symphonic post-black energy. A combination of master craft poetry, epic songwriting, and amazing melodic and harsh vocals, makes this album a must-have for anyone interested in expanding their black metal tastes past the so called tr00 wave of Norwegian kult black metal.
The album begins with the amazing track, Red For Fire + Black For Death, which I have to comment on as the perfect beginning for the album. It conveys the amazing instrument manifestations of both the harsher traditional black metal feel as well as the elegant folk-sounding symphonic atmosphere. Though the pace may change to a lighter tone through the album, this track conveys the emotional intensity of the album perfectly.
Overall, the instrumentals are beautifully crafted to work in perfect union with the symphonic aspects and the vocals. The vocals themselves are beautiful, flowing seamlessly through the album in perfect harmony to the atmosphere being created.
The only thing that disappointed me about this album is that I heard it after I finalised my 2006 top ten albums list.
Everything that "Red For Fire" lacked (which wasn't much) this makes up for in spades: the production is beautifully clean and crisp, the classical instrument passages didn't sound at all out of place, and Cornelius' croaking vocals (some of my favourite black metal vocals ever) have developed to their pinnacle.
The album starts off with a short interlude played on a violin, while the drumming begins in the background and eventually takes over, quickly turning the song into a pulverising affair. This is only a taste of things to come.
For some years Solefald have been on the cutting edge of social commentary in music, viciously attacking materialism and empty culture as early as the mid-nineties. Now that it has once again become "cool" to attack the mainstream (a paradox if ever there was one) Solefald have diverged from this path and gone in for a mythology-based set of concept albums, and what a pair of albums they are!
The album loses two per cent from me because of the positioning of the "Lokasenna" tracks. On "Red For Fire", an extract of the epic poem "Lokasenna" appeared as the final track, spoken by Cornelius (presumably) in the original Icelandic, with wind and waves in the background. And this was a good thing. Five minutes or so of Cornelius' pleasantly deep voice speaking a beautifully guttural language was very calming. On "Black For Death", unfortunately, two further extracts were put on the album, not at the end, which would have been fine, but as the seventh and penultimate tracks, which kind of break up the album instead of complementing it.
Overall, however, an admirable offering. Standout tracks include "Queen In The Bay Of Smoke" and "Sagateller".