without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
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.