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Beware, this is black metal in its crudest form. If you can't cope with dirty amateur productions that make your eardrums bleed, you'd better stay away from Durch Ruinen und düstere Kriegsfelder ("Through Ruins and Dusty Battlefields" in German). Same if you're embarrassed about bands who praise the German Third Reich.
Sombre Chemin and Ornaments of Sin were among the finest French raw black metal acts back in the 2000's. Both bands are not active anymore to my knowledge, but this split is still a very remarkable release in my opinion, gathering some of the bands' best material.
Sombre Chemin play a mixture of Black Legions-inspired dissonant riffs, pagan rock-ish riffs (à la Vlad Tepes) and weird ambient interludes. I can sum up Sombre Chemin's music like this: strong personality, dreamlike atmosphere, but sloppy technique and production. The songs featured on Durch Ruinen... are based on the concept of the Third Reich's fall. It's easy to note that Sombre Chemin's side is more blatantly political than Ornaments of Sin's. But let's begin with Sombre Chemin, since they open hostilities.
First of all, the drumming sucks. It's even sloppier than anything played by Capricornus. It doesn't completely ruin the listening experience, but it certainly adds to the band's identity a feeling of powerlessness that was probably never intended.
On the other hand, the guitar riffs are really inspired and memorable. No annoying song structure to be found here. The guitar riffing progresses through the song to tell a story. That's what great about this band: listening to them is like listening to a sad story, with some enlightened parts.
Sombre Chemin also play ambient-like parts, mixing synth layers, weird noises and sampled German military hymns. The addition results in a quite great fantomatic and nostalgic atmosphere. There is no real contrast between the black metal parts and the ambient parts, because they both participate in the same dark dreamlike ambiance. I particularly like the outroduction to "Possession Odinique" - ending the band's performance - with the obsessive repetition of the word "Europa". A successful try at practising electronic music.
Both sides of the split provide good vocals, though different from each other. Sombre Chemin's singer basically screams his guts out in a hateful way, and occasionally adds spoken words (quite pointless to be frank). Ornaments of Sin's vocalist has a more controlled flow and volume. His tight rhythmic feeling makes his vocal work enjoyable, though he indulges in useless spoken words too.
Both bands have an interesting introduction. Sombre Chemin samples Carl Orff's Carmina Burana O Fortuna. Ornaments of Sin uses the traditional thrashy feedback intro. The greatest song to be found on this split is Ornament's of Sin's "Citadels of Darkness". The drumming is fiercely fast, relentless and - unlike Sombre Chemin - professionally recorded and executed. The song's main riff is so great that I can hardly get it out of my head.
But the first time that I listened to Ornaments of Sin's performance with earphones, a problem immediately rang the alarm bell to my ears: the bass guitar is out of tune - about a semitone too low. Fortunately, the bass is hardly audible on most of the songs, but this problem can be irritating if you listen carefully.
The other songs are a bit lower in terms in quality. They feature other good riffs, but also common riffs already heard 100 times as well. Ornaments of Sin lacks in personality what Sombre Chemin lacks in tightness and professionalism. That's probably why each side of the split balances each other. The only problem that both bands share in terms of production is the high, eardrum-piercing, shrill, excessively distorted guitar tone.
Before finishing this review, a few words about the cover art. I don't own the CD or vinyl version, but the front cover looks pretty amateur: Photoshop copy-paste, common Gothic font, black and white... We've already seen this 1000 times before. But I own the cassette version, and the cover art is even simpler, only showing the castle on a full black background and including the bandnames and tracklisting. So don't expect more than music if you plan to buy Durch Ruinen und düstere Kriegsfelder. I may add that if you want to buy the cassette version, you may need to fill the gaps, since the whole release approximates more than 33 minutes. (As a personal note, my wicked stereo accidentally recorded a blank on "Dark Doctrines and Fullmoon Mysteries" instead of fast-forwarding the tape...)
I'm not used to giving marks in my reviews, but I think that the 80-85% range is fully deserved, even if Durch Ruinen... bears many flaws. I'd rather listen to this split than to some more recent and professionally-produced French acts from the NS/pagan scene.
How do bands like these get pro CD releases? I mean, really, how?
What this honestly sounds like is a vaguely more competent and 'normal' spin on Zarach 'Baal' Tharagh, but without that project's deviant charm. Almost wholly random, dissonant tremolo riffing grinds against a questionable drum performance and a pretty awful standard of sound quality while the vocalist shrieks over the top like his arm just got blown off by an IED. The song structures are mostly random, changing spastically from clumsy thrash beat to slow, somewhat melodic, pseudo-depressive black whenever the band feels like it. This would sound improvised if the weirdness wasn't so clearly practiced (if not quite practiced enough for the instrumentation to be good). While this sounds weird, it's still pretty uninspired; most of these dissonant riffs sound like the sort of thing I'd hear from blackmetal.com or Wraith Productions but with half the professionalism and twice the derivation from other, better bands.
The one interesting moment on this side is closing track 'Possession Odinique', essentially an alt rock track which brings to mind Judas Iscariot experiments like 'From Hateful Visions'; it actually has personality that the abstract combination of Absonus Noctis and a handful of random French suicidal bands does not. Sombre Chemin pretty much sucks; if you just want to hear ultra-primitive, dissonant, random black metal, there's other, better known instances of the style that are much more widely known (and hated) but are also ultimately more interesting. This is in a no-man's land between attempting to be professional and pure basement-dwelling madness, and it's not a comfortable place at all for it.
Ornaments Of Sin:
What the hell do I even say about this? It's a slightly more professional spin on Sombre Chemin: dissonant French black metal (more oldschool than Deathspell Omega but with some similarly annoying traits) that is entirely uninspired as well as not even being delivered very well for what it is. Sure, the song structures make more sense than the first band on this split, but there's no real sense of development or motion to the songs and all it does is rip off, well, every other black metal band from the past decade. You have Swedish riffs, French riffs, Norwegian riffs, all sorts of boring riffs that never go anywhere or provide any atmosphere. The production and playing are better than Sombre Chemin, but Ornaments Of Sin don't even have a bizarre rock song at the end of their material to help salvage it.
There's just absolutely nothing here that would interest the underground black metal fan; I guess it's an accurate cross-section of what modern underground black metal sounds like, except for the fact that it sucks worse than normal. Nothing about this is creative or even remotely inspired; it truly feels like the band sat down to write some black metal and just recorded it for the hell of it. There's no passion or motivation behind it; this music just sinks and sinks into its own self-indulgence.
Remind me exactly who the fuck listens to stuff like this?