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A quandary of unfinished ideas - 59%

robotiq, July 23rd, 2020

This record might surprise people like myself who only knew Finland's Belial for the "Wisdom of Darkness" EP. The band's debut full-length "Never Again" is an interesting and varied record that captures the confusing nature of Scandinavian extreme metal at the time (i.e., 1993). This was a period when death metal was beginning to subside, and the second wave of black metal was taking shape. In Finland, Impaled Nazarene were already making a crusty black metal racket, and such influences appear to have infected Belial too. It would be unfair to accuse Belial of jumping on a bandwagon because they had experimented with darker sounds on their previous EP. This debut album is a natural evolution of their earlier sound.

That said, "Never Again" sounds different to "Wisdom of Darkness". That EP was a death metal record with blackened undertones. This album occupies a curious non-space between death and black metal. It is probably more aligned to the latter, albeit with obvious punk and crust influences. The vocalist has adapted his style to suit their new approach. He adopts a nasally, Bathory-esque sneer rather than his previous death metal growl. The Deicide influence that was so obvious on the band’s earlier material has vanished. I might have been tempted to put this record into the 'blackened death metal' category alongside the likes of "Dark Endless" and "The Nocturnal Silence", but the overt crustiness draws inevitable comparisons to Impaled Nazarene. The twist is that Belial have also become more technically proficient with their instruments. The songs on this album are bouncier and busier than anything they had written before, with more riff-changes and surprises.

When you listen to this album, you will immediately notice the number of keyboard sections and interludes. The band hinted in this direction on "Wisdom of Darkness", but things are taken to another level here. I assume that at least one member of the band was getting into electronic music in a big way. The first minute of opener "Firestorm" is a full-on electro tune, almost like an Italo disco instrumental. "Dragons Kiss/Swan Song" is a typical spooky keyboard interlude of the kind you will find on many extreme metal records. "The Sun" begins with a minute or so of ambient chords, similar to what The KLF did on "Chill Out" a few years earlier. For a metal band, Belial are competent at this kind of stuff. Each of their forays into electronic and ambient territory is more convincing than you might expect.

Belial are still pretty good at making metal too. The aforementioned "The Sun" is the album's focal point. This is the longest song, and the one with the most depth and broadest scope. "About Love" takes the opposite approach. It has a gritty, urban punk vibe that sounds similar to what Entombed did on "Wolverine Blues" (at around the same time). I like the way this song alternates between awkward, dissonant sections and meaty grooves. It reminds me of crusty hardcore bands from the mid-1990s (e.g., Stalingrad, Union of Uranus). "The Red One" is decent too, with an equal mix of straight-ahead nastiness and oddball, jolting rhythms. Throughout, the production has a crystal clear, snappy sound and all the instruments are well separated. The bass is meaty, and you won't hear many better cymbal sounds than the ones on here.

So why give the album such a low rating? That is a difficult question to answer. It comes down to my subjective dislike for it. This is a chore to sit through. Belial do most things well, but the phrase 'jack of all trades, master of none' is apt. "Never Again" is far less than the sum of its parts. This record flits between so many different things; blackened punk rock, synth music, complex death metal. The band no longer sound like Deicide, but they haven't worked out their own identity either. The clarity and purity of the "Wisdom of Darkness" EP (and songs like "Of Servant of Belial" in particular) have been lost in the wilderness. The crass cover artwork is the final nail in the coffin, being one of the worst I’ve seen and leaving a bitter aftertaste. "Never Again" might be an interesting listen, but there is nothing satisfying, lasting or substantial about it. In 1993, such indecision and disconnectedness to an aesthetic was a cardinal sin. We are more forgiving about such transgressions these days, but this album languishes in obscurity for good reason.

Lost fascination - 67%

Felix 1666, September 26th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Lethal Records

There was a time when "Never Again" belonged to the inner circle of my favourite albums, but today I cannot ignore any longer its weaknesses. The third track, for example, has nothing to do with metal. An instrumental which is based on synthesizer and some piano tones. Please explain me why we have to face such a cripple on an extreme metal album. The opener also suffers from synthetic sounds, its first minute is nothing else but a keyboard intro with the effect that the remaining song is pretty short (yet highly intensive). By the way, intensity is a feature of the highlights of the album. Despite the fact that the production appears relatively flat, a brutal black death thrash punk hybrid like "As Above So Below" convinces with its harsh and merciless power. Too bad that also more than the first minute of the next track falls victim to the hyperactive keyboards player.

Indeed, all these non-metallic intermezzos cause a negative impact on the entire album, although they lend the full-length somehow a unique touch as well. Nevertheless, Belial have a talent for brutal, direct compositions and it is a pity that they do not show it during the whole playtime. Aggravating the situation, they also deliver oven fodder. "About Love" - already the tender title is suspect - is a powerless number without effective riffs or any positive trait at all. So it's clear to see, the album bleeds from numerous wounds. If somebody asks me for my highlights, what can I say? "The second half of the opener"? Pretty strange answer.

Fortunately, one finds a certain number of tracks which reveal the high potential of the guys during both of their halves. I mentioned already "As Above So Below", but the straight "Clouds", which combines mid-tempo and speedy parts cleverly, hit the bull's eye as well. Indeed, mid-tempo plays a more or less prominent role on the entire output, but the guttural voice ensures a violent overall impression. Nevertheless, a predominantly furious track like "Desires" makes clear that the importance of high velocity should not be underestimated.

Incidentally, "Never Again", whose successor brought a radical change in style, does not sound very Finnish or let's say Scandinavian. Neither dark forests nor icy fields appear in front of the inner eye. Belial rather focus on realistic brutality. Some parts of the album have a death metal aura without being limited by strictly low-tuned guitars. Or, to express it differently: an eerie atmosphere is missing. The keyboard interludes do not create scary vibrations due to their boring melodies and the punchy sections of the output also fail to evoke strong emotions. Maybe this was not intended by the group, but I regret it, regardless of the quality of the single tracks. So I don't want to beat around the bush. In my eyes, "Never Again" has lost a lot of its fascination during the last 24 years.

Brutality From Hell - 100%

nahtaivel, May 12th, 2007

When I first heard of this band, I realised that their material was going to be interesting, and I listened to this album.

I was shocked, this was much more better than I realised: The fast and brutal guitar riffs, the thick bass sound, the powerful drum attacks, the strange yet impressive vocals and the usage of keyboards, they were all creepy and perfect. This is nothing like you have heard before, this is a good mix of dynamic song structure of death metal, and the dark, hellish feeling of black metal. The songs are all nice, especially the keyboard parts made this album more interesting.

First of all, "Firestorm" is an interesting way to start an album. When you listen to this synth/keyboard part, you become confused, but with the blast of the riffs and vocals at 1:20, you wake up and realize where you are, with pain, but a pain that you would like. Perfect guitar riffs and blast beats make your mind blow, with the inhuman vocals. The song "As Above So Below" starts with another nice guitar riff, and you can feel the "black metal" sense in their song here, especially with the creepy atmosphere made with keyboards that starts at 1:22. Very good song. Another song I recommend is About Love, another perfect song with really nice guitar riffs, lots of techniques are used, so this is not a normal 2-chord song or a fast piece played with tremolo picking only.

As my last word, I recommend this masterpiece to the people that wants to headbang along with death metal structure with black metal feeling.

Belial's best ever - 100%

ArtOfWar, May 12th, 2004

The first full-length release from Belial is their (no pun intended here) swan song, as it's not only their best material to date, but it's the last album in which Belial played Black/Death Metal. This album, in a word, is amazing! Belial mixes their heavy layered style of Black/Death Metal with doses of Thrash, 70's Prog Rock, and NWOBHM sounds, to form one of the most enjoyable albums ever. The opening intro is so eerie, you can almost feel your skin crawling as the beat drones on. But, before you can recover from that, "Firestorm" kicks in like a deranged maniac with an axe and proceeds to slice your head clean from your shoulders. The use of keyboards on this album is near perfect, as there's just enough passages on here to help you unwind before the mayhem kicks in again. With song titles like "About Love," "On You" and "Clouds," this may not seem very Death Metal-ish to the uninitiated. Don't be fooled though, this is a monster of an album. Besides the ultra catchiness of the music (trust me, these songs will be playing in your head for days after you hear them), the vocals really stand out. I don't know what demon possessed Jarno Koskinen during the recording of this album, but he sounds downright sadistic. For anyone who has heard prior Belial releases, they know the vocals are extremely brutal. However, they are even more intense on Never Again. Stand out tracks include "Firestorm," "The Red One," "About Love" and "Pain-Flood." A truly memorable release, it's a shame Belial went the way of Goth rock after this.

As with other Belial releases, this one is extremely rare. I haven't seen it for sale in any distro in years, so if you can find it in any format, pick it up immediately.