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"Flesh Cathedral" remains Svartidaudi's sole album to date which may surprise a lot of people who listen to it the first time - I certainly was, because it sounds so accomplished and meticulous in its technical crafting. It certainly doesn't sound like a first album but more like a second or even third album: the songs all seem to be part of a concept that's taken time to develop (and for that reason the album is best heard in one sitting) and the music's execution sounds well balanced, tight enough but not too tight. The band's preference for dissonant chords does mean the music sounds superficially similar to famous French black metallers Deathspell Omega and the Icelanders may well have taken inspiration from DSO in their song-writing and concepts. Everything else they do here though is different: Svartidaudi don't go in for avant-jazz rhythms, theirs is a more doomy style of black metal.
Intro track "Sterile Seeds" sets the stage musically and conceptually: this track introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world ruined by wars and pollution, or to a body wrecked by addiction and abuse of all kinds and that has passed the threshold between life and death. The track's style is epic and monumental in many ways, with layers and layers of grinding or fluttering tremolo guitars, a cold atmosphere and harsh stentorian vocals. The drumming isn't especially heavy or remarkable but doesn't need to be - the guitars and bass shoulder most of the responsibility for building up and carrying such a massive edifice of music, mood and ambience. "The Perpetual Nothing" brings the listener to confront an utterly empty and bleak universe with stuttering rapid-fire rhythm thunder, tom-tom rolls, sinister spider lead guitars and the most dreadful death-rattle vocals that sigh resignation in the face of nihilism. This song is a mighty monster of machine-gun blast-beat and tom-tom punishment and wailing guitar, relentless in piling riff upon riff, and nearly drowning out the vocals.
The title track builds on previous songs with a huge deep cavernous atmosphere, a complex mix of thunderous drumming, flippy blast beats and shifting rhythms, monstrous grinding bass grooves, sinister winding guitar riffs and melodies, and above all those dry wraith vocals drifting overhead. "Psychoactive Sacraments" is a roller-coaster ride through highs and lows in mood and music with portentous doom, malevolent black metal and hellish dark ambient elements used where appropriate to create a dramatic shape-shifting sonic architecture that floods and overwhelms the senses. While there is plenty of darkness, there is also a glimmer of hope, of brightness, of potential renewal and access to a higher spiritual plane.
Each song is very long and structurally elaborate with new riffs and melodies coming in almost right up to the end, and drastically changing rhythm or direction about halfway through as well, so tracks probably aren't as distinctive or memorable as they could be. No one track is typical of the album and all songs need to be heard together for them to make sense, not only as a whole, but as parts in the whole. For this reason, hearing this album is a daunting adventure in itself and several rounds with the album might be necessary at risk of feeling punch drunk after each listen. But those of us who've heard the album a few times can at least say it's an adventure worth taking.
The one thing I think that would improve this album is a higher quality production that brings out more of its subtleties and highlights its sonic extremes and many moods and atmospheres.
Perhaps the most sinister entity to have ever come out from Iceland today, Svartidaudi are a force to be reckoned with. The occult, rigorously ritualistic atmosphere that their debut presented here is somewhat unique and intriguing at best. The four-track record is more than just an output; it is indeed a tribute to the dark side so appropriate that listening to it in one sitting does not do justice.
‘Sterile Seeds’ erupted from the stereo like a gelatinous mass of malformed abomination. You can hear what sounded like an iron gate being opened, thus bringing to life this first-born creature into our world of oblivion. Indeed, if one is familiar with the works of later Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord, then Svartiaudi’s music is not that hard to stomach. By no means are these Icelandic maniacs simply a carbon copy of the ancestors that have come before them. On this debut, Svartidaudi have yet to exhibit the ability to drive listeners into insanity with abyssal complexity, but there are moments, bits and pieces, that can be considered no less worthy of your attention. Take for example the extensively repetitive tremolo picking on the opening track. It goes on to show that Svartidaudi are capable of crafting some memorable riff that snakes through your mind.
While the record follows a single theme of outright asphyxiation of anything breathable, ‘The Perpetual Nothing’ is perhaps one of their greatest, most creative track to date. I especially love this song, but from 0:40 mark, you cannot help but bang your head to its sinister atmosphere. That part of the track commands your attention, while Sturla’s vocals go very well with the overall guitar tuning and the thickness of the music. Not to mention the semi acoustic section that emerges halfway through the song which invokes further ritualistic quality to the song.
Thankfully, though, the album is doing quite well in the bass department. With this type of output, a moderately clean production is nonetheless crucial to allow every riff and note to reach the listeners in no time as soon as the disc is fed into your stereo. Purists often complained that black metal and glossy production job don’t go in one sentence but Svartidaudi proved otherwise. The drums are competently played, with the snare creating some sort of muffled explosion especially when Magnus is blasting his way through with laser-precision timing.
Nowadays, whenever one mentions Svartidaudi, the song that immediately comes to mind is of course “Flesh Cathedral”. Of all the songs on this debut, the title is definitely my favorite. The opening acoustic strumming is very well written and it is also the most powerful track in its own. I believe this song has defined the band’s trademark sound; thick wall of guitars, cavernous drums, malevolent tremolos, and the unsuspecting tempo changes from fast pummeling to slow, brooding section. “Flesh Cathedral” is also the song that separates Svartidaudi from the rest of the pack, a song uniquely theirs. Around 07:30, the song shifts between Immolation-esque dissonances to modern black metal assault with a series of sliding bass tricks along the line, something that is so not common in the genre but Svartidaudi nailed it, flawlessly! When the song enters 10:07, the band have one more trick up their sleeves; a distorted bass solo with barbaric drum rolls that slowly created a stage for the next and final track called “Psychoactive Sacraments”, yet another equally brutal hymn for a band that hailed from the freezing shores of Iceland.
The last song combines a rush of cocaine boosted with alcohol and blood. You probably get the idea. Take for example the part around 10:35 of Psychoactive Sacraments; it follows similar formula from the previous track but the band have decided to rework the equation with some wailing melancholy that feels almost, well, mournful. That certainly caught me by surprise the first time I was listening to it. Svartidaudi however do not want to dwell in the territory because they have probably learned from the scene that overdoing things is rather silly to begin with. Instead, the band device an escape plan by taking a series of evasive routes before they regroup themselves at the initial rendezvous point. Genius. Because they are not simply recycling the notes at their disposal. Svartidaudi are simply establishing each section for what’s to come.
If you haven’t heard any song from this band before, I suggest you keep yourself in touch with this debut. Despite each track reaching beyond 10 minutes each, Flesh Cathedral does not seem to plod away, dragging tired ideas time and again like, say, Icons of Evil or Dechristianize. Taking this full length in its own suffocating realm of perspective, everything is just perfect. Svartidaudi are taking the scene to a new height with creative song writing skills that may not be so original to some, but creative enough to form an identity of their own given the fact that the scene is already way too crowded with uninspired copycat bands springing from all over the globe. Svartidaudi are respectable musicians and they respect themselves and their fans by putting out quality record like Flesh Cathedral. By all means, go and buy this album!
I admit being claustrophobic, since an accident that occurred many years ago. I was then stuck under snow for several minutes, unable to breathe. I still have nightmares in which I seem to have been attached and then buried alive. It is a very unpleasant sensation that provokes strong reactions in me.
However, a black metal band has managed to capture this terror and record it. Rarely has an album provided me such a feeling of confinement, waking my innermost fear. Its authors belong to Icelandic band Svartidauði and their crime is called Flesh Cathedral.
This album gives an authentic impression of madness, somewhere between psychosis and dementia. Amalgamating black and doom metal, music found there is overwhelming and deployed on four long songs of more than ten minutes each. This division is, however, useless as the album is a whole, real barbarian maelstrom that plunges listener into chaos.
Band achieves this through several stylistic elements that should be mentioned, such as probably drop-D guitars, a very scary guttural voice and – above all – a phenomenal bass playing. This is the album’s cornerstone and its presence enhances the heavier parts, further increasing the oppression feeling endured by the listener. As for the songs, slow and tortured, they sometimes suddenly accelerate through complex harmonic structures, but also surprisingly melodic. Lyrics – incomprehensible but available on the web – also reflect this lawless thirst for destruction, evoking a world ravaged by his own fault.
I do not know to what extent their island harsh geography have influenced this Reykjavik quartet, but the result is particularly successful. Difficult and demanding, Flesh Cathedral gains power over listenings, its weight crushing increasingly the unwary who dare to listen. This album will probably awake many phobias, like those of your humble host.
Originally written for Métal Obscur.