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Confused but not without its strengths - 80%

forceofevil, August 3rd, 2008

An interesting if somewhat confused split-12'. The two bands on offer here aren't particularly well-matched; Arkha Sva play idiosyncratic black metal in the mode of Xasthur, while Black Stench play far more straight-ahead black metal, though not without distinction. It's hard to think of reasons for putting these two together on a split LP, although the contrast between them might be a possible explanation.

Arkha Sva's side, "Destroy Them All," is an extended meditation on hatred that's as bizarre as it is occasionally potent. The lyrics (printed on the cardstock inner sleeve) are an extended litany offering a coherent and cutting misanthropy: "The heaviest humiliation and pains to them. Cruel death and fatal ruin to them. Your talisman of the Coven leads them into their total death. The infernal flame and the sea of boiling sulfuric acid let their souls return to dust. Destroy them all." Reading the lyric sheet gives lots of hope for a dark, lightless atmosphere, which Arkha Sva generally provide: the guitar tone is choked and pained, and the riffs are well-constructed minor key runs. The "field" recordings that dot the side - sounds of water dripping perhaps in a cave or tunnel while the lyrics are pronounced in a rasp - are coldly effective.

But the drumming on "Destroy Them All" is exceedingly weak and lifeless. And the vocals - well, credit for original approach, but the shrieking clean falsetto that the singer hits several times doesn't work, because he doesn't seem to have any control over it: it soars randomly and doesn't sound like it lands where it's supposed to. This out-of-control vocal feel does sort of increase the desperate tone of the piece at times, but other times it sounds frankly ridiculous and detracts from the atmosphere.

The Black Stench side, while less original, is better. The side opens with a somber, funereal stomp and some gasped vocals - the band owes some of their riffs to Darkthrone and others to Mayhem, and a lot of their mood to Beherit, but the mood they build belongs to them, and that's commendable. Riffing is somewhat dissonant, but everything's given room to breathe, so the dissonant guitars and and almost droning vocals (especially in "Silent Hallways") mix with the well-disciplined drums to forge a distinctly chilly mood. Credit should be given to the band and their producer for crafting a good atmosphere, and especially to the guitarist for finding a tone that really is his own voice. Naturally any guitar tone is a combination of many that have come before it, but the challenge is to take all that and make something with personality, which is what happens here. The chorus-pedal'd single notes that punctuate "Black Mind's Abyss" are haunting and memorable. There's an odd synth interlude toward the side's end that actually does something besides add an "ambient" tag to the band's styles: it's a jarring, trebly melody that sounds like the lost theme music to some forgotten BBC horror series.

All in all, a worthwhile effort - interesting for the Arkha Sva side, but a keeper for Black Stench, who balance traditional elements with more bizarre personal contributions (the vocals, the guitar tone) to great effect.