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After the very predictable (for anyone who pays attention anyway) three year silence that followed Taake's self titled third album comes the latest effort by Mr. Hoest and associated. And in this case, perhaps the words "associated" is one of the most relevant. In this instalment of the Taake saga, Hoest counts with a very wide and impressive list of contributors. In the very first track, Fra vadested til vaandesmed, towards the end, we can hear the unmistakable grasps of none less than Nocturno freaking Culto. And that's just the beginning of the album's surprises, but we'll get on that later on.
The first thing to strike the listener is the considerably less stingy sound of the guitar; the tremolos flowing in a more homogeneous torrent of sound, widening its area of influence. This magnifies the trance-inducing effect that, as it is, is already well known in black metal. But at the same time, and as is tradition with this band, no movement or riff or section is repeated for too long, and before you can settle into the stream, the rapids change speed and rocks come out of nowhere, catapulting you from your kayak.
On that note, most of the flaws I personally encountered on their previous album (namely lack of energy and watered down riffs not nearly as gloriously "norwegian" as in previous releases) have been subdued quite a bit, and we do get more bombastic drumming moments and jarringly passionate, folk-influenced riffs. But, perhaps unfortunately or perhaps luckily, this album is still a distinctly step away from the trilogy. That is, by no means, a bad thing. There's only one thing I (and people like me) have been looking for in the metal scene the past ten years and that is innovation. Something that (shockingly, considering the vertiginous history and evolution metal offered almost non-stop from 1970 all the way up until the mid 90's) has been extremely hard to find. So no, I do not pan for the band to go back to their 1999-2005 style. Rest assured, that's exactly what they're not doing here.
Point in case, there is quite a number of fleeting yet compelling instances of experimentation. Now, don't fret. They didn't go down the already cliched "post-metal" sound road, nor did they start experimenting with electronic ambiance or genre crossovers. They are simply executing their core formula in different ways and pointing their talents at slightly different angles. Maybe you'll be listening to a blastbeating monotone (in a good way) section, only to be suddenly interrupted by a dissonant, almost sludgy riff. Maybe you'll be headbanging to the mid-paced sections when seemingly from out of nowhere a chuggy 4/5 riff, or even a Sabbath-influenced heavy riff will throw you off your balance.
All of this without mentioning the use of rather unorthodox instruments like mandolin (perhaps the most brillian addition to the black metal sound since violins and cellos; the friggin mandolin was made to play tremolos, why didn't anyone think of this before? I'm off right now to find a way to plug a mandolin to a very, very distorted amplifier), banjo and bue(???), aswell as the use of samples at the beginning of some songs, something I don't recall having heard from this band before (I might have to check on that) and a very fitting, chest-pounding choir. Strange sounds do lurk behind the bulk of the music from time to time, which seems like a smart move, adding some extra mystery to the already thick sound.
Somewhat like in previous albums, there are rock-tingled elements on most if not all songs, although they're well disguised and only come to the listener's attention in some extreme cases, like when some clean guitar arpeggios get mixed with groovy riffs and solos that remind me of Cathedral or even the less popular sweden death metal albums like Wolverine Blues, Victory or even Heartwork. But that's just to give you a very vague idea. Don't go around thinking they've gone the way of the mid-90's extreme metal scene (or the way of Nokturnal Mortum's spectacular The Voice Of Steel).
To round things up a bit, the album presents most, if not all of the elements that made their early albums the landmarks they were, mixed with the somewhat weaker elements of their self titled. But it's not as simple as that sounds. All of the elements inherited from their previous four full lengths are downplayed and fused in order to create a merged, rich source of elements instead of trying to incorporate all the elements at once, creating interference, or worse, alternating between them, making it sound like a terrible compilation of skills. That, combined with the more adventurous instruments and the extra vocals and lead guitars courtesy of the notable list of guest musicians, make for a very, very unique album. I wouldn't say the album sounds like it borrowed from all its predecessors and it's just a culminating effort, because a) that would take credit away from Hoest (and company)'s ability to innovate and b) it really doesn't sound like that at all, even if those elements are present, they're presented in a very fresh and even innovative format.
Their trilogy remains Taake's (and some of black metal post 1995) most excellent works, but this album truly blows their previous effort out of the water. Enough traditionalism to still be the last great banner for Norwegian Black Metal, enough experimentation to allow themselves to swerve towards whatever direction these visionaries see fit in the future.