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Although it may very well be the brand of metal I find myself drawn towards, I am the first to admit that there's alot of black metal that evidently aims to mock itself. From the unspoken contest of which band can be the most 'evil', to the hordes of raspy soundalikes, it becomes that much more difficult to find the gems. Taake is a project I have heard some great things about over the past couple of years, but it took me until this album to finally check out what was causing the excitement. Although the generic album artwork may have led me to think that Taake were going to be another overhyped Norwegian act, 'Noregs Vaapen' is one of the few times I have found myself truly surprised by a black metal album. Mellotrons, melodies, and banjo solos are just a handful of things that make Taake's fifth album stand out.
Taake are forward-thinking without necessarily treading into prog or avant-garde territory. Without alienating the listeners who are looking for the traditionally raw sound of black metal, project leader Hoest brings in fresh elements to back up strong, often diverse songwriting. Norwegian black metal tends to have a distinct sound to it, and listeners need not fear for lack of blastbeats, tremolo picking, or the signature raspy howl. In speaking of Norwegian black metal, some of the scene's most noteworthy figures offer a guest performance here; Nocturno Culto (of Darkthrone), Demonaz (of Immortal), as well as the legendary Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar, who joined Mayhem after Ohlin's suicide. These cameos feel more like selling points over anything, as none of the guests are ever given a significant role to play in the music. This is one of only a few flaws 'Noregs Vaapen' contends with, however; each time I listened to the album, I became more impressed with the way Hoest had managed to bring all these musical elements and patched them together seamlessly. Perhaps the biggest surprise here is a bluegrass solo that's thrown right into the middle of 'Myr.' Even after several listens, it always comes as a pleasant shock.
For those large portions which devote themselves to more traditional black metal worship, I was impressed by the convergence of melody, atmosphere and harshness, whereas most bands are able to achieve two of the three at best. 'Fra vadested til vaandesmed' represents this paradigm quite well; there is little about it that wanders outside of the black metal canon save for a mellotron outro, but the songwriting makes it memorable and profound. The production has a raw vibe to it, but there is a clarity to the recording that works perfectly. To say that 'Noregs Vaapen' is a masterpiece would be as apt a summary as I could make. Norwegian black metal has emulated itself inside and out, and Taake creates something fresh and breathtaking with it. Hoest may be colouring within the lines on 'Noregs Vaapen', but he is using new colours.