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I: Pitch black composition - 76%

Byrgan, August 27th, 2010

Barathrum's first full length can be summed up as slow, mid-paced, thick, muddy, occasionally catchy, and all the while drenched in nefarious tone. "Hailstorm" is back at a time when these Fins were centered primarily on mood. Some bands in extreme metal prided themselves on being mostly confrontational—aggressive, violent, brutal. This recording adds a new spin to where those groups might have only included a layer of atmosphere but relied mostly on direct or distinguishable musicianship to guide the listener forward. This is comparable to: Hey, check out that riff vs Hey, check out that one sound. Essentially Barathrum takes their instruments and purposely disassembles them to see how they can sound less like straight music than something unguessable or ambiguous to your ears instead.

On top of how they play, this is one strangely produced recording as well. Though the drums have individual microphones, causing the sound to be the more clear and audible aspect here, with the snare higher toned and the hi-hat being present enough in the mix to be followable. However, the guitars and vocals take foulness to an all time new plateau. The mixing levels of the guitars are not what you might expect. It sounds like they have an electric guitar in the background and a heavily distorted bass guitar in the foreground with louder volume. This also has a clean bass every now and again play the rhythm, even on a few songs it's louder than the distorted bass. So, this usually has two separate rhythms going on, typically with the loudest one playing a little more varied than the one below it. Along with the snare drum, the vocals are the most prominent aspect in the mix. They included tons of effects and occasionally will have a few layered vocal lines put one on top of the other if that wasn't enough for your gettin'-a-beatin' ears.

Now, you'd probably imagine all of the just described going on at once with their production to be a complete mess. But since their musical side is played primitively, and also steadily in only a few gears, it can help give some divide between what's happening or which of the many noises you should follow. The drums have a tendency to march forward in a straight line, but will still hand out some fills such as successive tom drum hits, various blows around the set and even some brief double bass portions. The guitars can be hideous, like they were written with rotten eggs under their noses as a constant suffering reminder, then can be taken away for a breather, leading up to a catchy line escaping the torment every now and again. There might only be a few notes within the confines of a particular riff, like it takes a weight lifter to press down the massive strings. They tend to have more strums than palm mutes, sometimes the notes are so spaced apart that they almost seem to lose gravity. There is a downside to them though, as a few guitar lines come across as this slithering static-demon, being undetectable underneath the vocals giving their monstrous louder turn. Sova likes to shift his vocals with hissing, warning rasps, as if you're potentially trespassing once hitting the play button and entering their no-turning-back-now environment. His vocals are rank with distortion effects, almost like they're attempting to become another guitar track themselves, as I'd imagine he ran them through a distortion pedal not originally intended for a voice. The projection gives off this certain nebulous obscurity that you're never able to trace around with distinct lines. They have this particular unwashable presence, essentially the more you hear of them, the harder it is to clean them off.

"Hailstorm" is definitely a different output than others and there was probably no other exactly like it back then in the mid-nineties. To get your head wrapped around it, think of the experimenting tendencies of Abruptum, the bass centered direction of Necromantia's first, and then that's not even getting it all because Barathrum includes their own little quirks and oddities to black metal music where they are separated even from others in the same genre pool as themselves. I think to get it this way, it sounds like the recording process went hand and hand with the song writing. Like they applied one layer at a time, listening back to see how it fits. Instead of being spontaneous or on-the-spot like one would envision, it gives off this evil ritualistic mode of sounds, though one where the drums and a few hooking riffs are about the only thing to safely grab onto; the rest of it is calculated and cold, something that delivers a bash to the head, puts dirt in the wound and even a kick when you're down. Though 13 tracks later you can see some dropping of this unorthodox mode of playing. Sometimes "Hailstorm" is repetitive and it can plod with only a few things minimally going on. Like they're attempting to sustain you but might only have a few notes stick out, play the beat sort of straight forward and the vocals might not stray, revealing this visible formula that "snaps" you out of it when exposed; essentially it's like getting stuck as a listener every now and again when the band nearly hits a few obstacles. Though there is still a decent amount of experimentation to ruin your ears and brain cells with. The post-production, such as mixing, sound effects, etc, most likely took just as long as the song writing. Even though it is somewhat grainy, you know they took time with it, and were attempting to mastermind the most pitch black recording ever done by a mortal *cue thunderbolt striking*. It is still an album you need to have your undivided attention focused on down to a pinpoint, and I can't imagine skipping around between tracks or just listening to a few songs here, it wouldn't be the same. So, "Hailstorm" is unreasonable in that regard, and this recording isn't going to be for everybody. Though it's unique in the Barathrum discography because it is so heavy-handed with atmospherics from beginning to end. The next recording I think is where they really took off and dominated the particular style of music they were shaping and molding up to this point with this and their prior material on demos.