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There are many appealing aspects of the early to mid 90s black metal scene, not the least of which being the variety that is all too apparent once taking in every respective scene as one grand movement. Much of it ended up going in a number of brand new directions, but there was a fairly conservative element that still clung to much of the death metal trappings that preceded it. Swordmaster are drawn from such a vain, expressing a violent, war-like character not all that different from contemporary releases out of Marduk and Lord Belial, though with a helping of the atmospheric character of Emperor at several key points that give them a level of depth that generally contrasts itself from a number of otherwise similar sounding Swedish bands.
In spite of its brevity, "Wraths Of Time" is quite a thrilling ride for anyone that seeks after a fast paced, dark, vindictive sound that rivals the early offerings of Gorgoroth, but with a less top-heavy sound. The guitar sound has the prototypical shimmering character that has been largely obligatory since the early 90s offerings of Mayhem, and high speed blasting and thrash beats rule that battery section with little accounting for bass presence. Yet at the same time, things are a bit heavier and percussive sounding, almost as if a small remnant of the early 90s Swedish death metal sound has held on and given this album a less cult-like and more modernized sound that is actually a bit closer to what many of today's black metal acts sound like. Similarly, the vocal work also brings in some lower end guttural barks to complement the higher pitched shrieks typical to this era, further painting it with a latent death metal tendency.
For all the interesting little nuances that separate this from the pack, the whole of this album is actually about as straightforward as can be. Things essentially start at full blast and cook right up until the closing "Outro", which sees a haunting, atmospheric keyboard sound with some maddened and incomprehensible ravings out of the vocalist at the end. At times this really reminds of Gorgoroth's "Antichrist" from a structural perspective, particularly the principle melody of "Wraths Of Time" during the blast sections, though what surrounds them has a thrashing character to it that is a bit along similar lines as parallel works out of Dissection. In fact, apart from the mixture of high and lower vocal characters, this listens like a shortened and simpler version of Dissection, walking a similarly thin line between melodic death and black metal.
For anyone who goes in traditional black metal circles, this is Swordmaster's only real offering that fits into the category. By 1995 standards it's a strong release that has received some deserved love, though they still remain fairly obscure. By the standards of what they came to be defined by, this is a death/thrash band that basically did a brief experiment. While comparisons to Dragonlord might be unavoidable, it is important to remember that "Wraths Of Time" does not sound like a Dimmu Borgir album, though the analogy holds true in other respects. It's only 14 minutes of music, but it is worth getting if it can be found.
Swordmaster may be best known for featuring the younger brother of Jon Nödtveidt, Emil (Night). Formed in mid-1993, this band was soon signed to Full Moon Productions. After stabilizing the line-up, they began work on their debut release. The Wraths of Time E.P. was recorded in Studio Fredman, in early 1995 and released some months later. Thankfully, the sound is not similar to many of the useless albums that were created there.
"Wraths of Time" begins at full speed, and the first thing that is noticed is the, relatively, strange guitar tone. It definitely has a Black Metal sound, but it is not as clear as what one might expect. Within a few moments, your ear gets used to it and the tremolo melodies seep into your brain, alternating with some rather epic thrash riffs. In all honesty, the comparison is one I wished to avoid, but these riffs sound as if they'd fit well on Storm of the Light's Bane. The vocals possess the standard raspy sound, though some brief bits of deeper vocals come along near the middle. There are some nice, cold melodies here. Nothing extraordinary, but solid and memorable.
The next song is "Upon Blood and Ashes", which starts with a slower pace and a sorrowful lead solo. It gets moving with a bit of a melancholic thrash riff, before transitioning to faster drums and tremolo riffing. The production favours the guitars over the rest, which is a good thing. The drums keep a steady pace, without dominating the sound. More frozen melodies sweep through, near the middle of the song, leaving a good impression.
"Conspiracy - Preview" is a brief song that starts with a keyboard intro and some indecipherable vocals, before the guitar fades in and plays a mournful riff. This fades into a more intense section that sounds a lot like a sped-up version of "Do or Die", by Testament. It's not bad, but it doesn't really fit in with the rest. It doesn't last long, and the song then fades to nothingness. I'm not sure what it was a preview of, since this song didn't appear on any later release that I know of.
The final track is merely some useless gargling and really adds nothing to the E.P. at all.
In the end, there are two decent songs and a couple throw-away tracks. It's definitely worth checking out, but for less than 15 minutes of music, I wouldn't recommend spending too much for it.
Better brush your teeth after this one. Swordmaster are about to unload an assault of sugary-sweet, delicious, yet simultaneously kick-ass black metal riffery on your ass for a quarter of an hour. Using simple, tremelo-picked melodies lathered in gooey distortion, Swordmaster manages to create music that is typical of the Swedish style yet still unique in its cheesy-ness. From the very first notes of the EP, you let out a sigh and expect another boring Sacramentum/Setherial clone (both incidentally, also beggining with 'S', which could not possibly be more irrelevant). However, when the blast beats stop and the single guitar kicks in, you know these guys mean business. They then proceed to continually toy with your expectations, unleashing riff after riff without relenting to the verse. You ponder a moment, 'Will there even be vocals on this album?', only to be satisfied by that phlegm-clogged rasp that us black metal fanatics have become so fond of. Swordmaster spend the rest of this brief melo-black metal rendezvous constructing epic songs with excellent guitar work. Sure, the riffs are a tad generic, but does that really matter in the long run? The ends justify the means as far as I'm concerned, the right musicians could easily take the central motif from a typical disco standard (ABBA comes to mind, being from Sweden) and filter it through their heavily-distorted amps to create something upbeat yet profound. I think that's what this little EP delivers, simple yet effective songwriting that doesn't take itself too seriously (just look at the name for Christssakes!) and charms you with little quirks here and there that will make you want to play it again and again.
Something you might notice, if you look beyond the immediate aesthetic of the their timbre and production, is Swordmaster's evident fondness for their own roots. Behind the wall of fuzz are riffs that wouldn't seem too out of place in an album released a decade earlier, often suggesting a greater influence from Heavy Metal/Speed Metal than any of their Swedish contemporaries. A comparison could be drawn to Sentenced, who combined previous forays into the genre of death metal with a sensibility for Iron Maiden-styled riffage on "Amok". Of course, this would be popularized by Dissection on "Storm of the Light's Bane" and imitated ad nauseum for eternity, and is also evident in the direction taken by Swordmaster following this EP. However, what this means is that Swordmaster doesn't wallow in misery or pine for frozen forests and wintermoons in their basements at night. The emotion conveyed on "Wraths of Time" does not quite suggest the aggression found in most black metal of the fast variety, but rather confidence. It is beautiful at times but not sad, it is harsh on occasion but not hateful. In this aspect, it would be fair to compare Swordmaster circa 1994 to the more melodic tendencies of early Immortal or Gorgoroth, with a greater emphasis on the aforementioned heavy metal influence. My only gripe with this fantastic little collection of tunes is its length, which barely reaches the 15-minute mark. Swordmaster teases us with two songs of substantial duration (not to mention kick-ass hookery), one "preview" song, and a brief outro. As the ambient noise fades out and the EP comes to a close, I can't help but feel as if I only had a brief Peep Show at the glory of Swordmaster with no quarters left in my pocket. As a result, the expectation set by the first two tracks seems unfulfilled, and my brief sugar-high wears off as I search for something else to fill the void that the utter silence has instilled when the EP reaches its premature conclusion.
Overall, I'd recommend any fan of metal - especially the Swedish melodic black style - to download "Wraths of Time" or possibly pick it up if they see it (likely in used condition). Although the music is excellent, its short length does not justify the payment of excessive premiums to online vendors. While not quite as developed as "The Somberlain" or as intricate and subtle as "Far Away From the Sun", Swordmaster manage to create fifteen minutes of music that simply never loses its charm.
This is a really short EP, containing only two songs, but they are great. What do you expect from the younger brother of Jon Nodtveidt, though?
This is not Dissection, though. Swordmaster plays a bit faster on here, and with quite a bit more melody. The title track that opens this up is a good example of that, with the semi-melodic verse riff. The real gem on here is "Upon Blood and Ashes," which slays from the get go. In fact, the first 30 seconds of it are just awesome. Then of coure it goes fast, and the singer does a Tom Warrior-esque grunt to kick it off. The fast stuff on here is good too, and I'm not always too keen on blasting black metal. But it works. This song is totally intense, and goes through a few changes before ending. Very cool. "Conspiricy--Preview" is exactly that. The keyboard in the beginning sets a great mood, then it launches into what became "Claws of Death" on Postmortem Tales, but here it sounds much better.
Night (Emil Nodtveidt) is definately a great guitarist. Very competent, and he knows exactly where to add melodies and where to keep it simple and brutal. Jon should get him in Dissection!
Fuck, the drumming on here is just phenomenal. I swear that it's Richard Christy playing on here, and if you look at the back of the album, it sure looks like him, just with corpsepaint. Listen to his crashes in "Upon Blood and Ashes," and all the little fills that he does. On top of that, the drums sound raw, especially the hi-hat, which really makes this seem lively. No wonder Nicky Terror didn't make the band that great on Postmortem Tales. I have no idea who this dude is on here, but it makes me wonder what band he's playing with now because his drumming is excellent. The only time it isn't that good is on the title track, during the blasting section in the beginning, and that's only because you can't hear the snare.
Well, it's so short, so I had to take points off for that. But as it says in the booklet--play it loud! "MAXIMUM FUCKING VOLUME!!!"