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Tranquility of Death - 88%

vinter skugga, July 11th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Northern Heritage Records

Throughout the past two decades, Mikko Aspa has proven to be one of the most consistent musicians in the realm of black metal. While some Clandestine Blaze albums have been better than others, anyone familiar with this project has a good idea of what to expect whenever a new album emerges. Released in November 2018, Tranquility of Death lives up to and exceeds any expectations that one could have.

While so many bands have come and gone, over the years, experimenting and bastardizing this form of music, Mikko has rarely strayed from the boundaries of black metal, as established so very long ago by the likes of Darkthrone and Burzum. However, that is not to say that it is dull and predictable. Despite coming along a decade after this general sound had been created, Mikko has developed his own unquestionably unique voice, over the years. For how long can primitive tremolo riffs, blasting drums and harsh vocals still yield anything worthwhile? Hasn't it all been done to death, by now? In the hands of those less skilled, the answer is yes. Sometimes, I find myself wishing that it would all go away, that people would resign themselves to the role of fan and listener and stop polluting the scene with pointless noise that adds nothing to the legacy of this music. And yet the latest release from Finland's Clandestine Blaze proves that all is not lost.

Even the opener, "God on the Cross", conveys more feeling and meaning in its three and a half minutes than most bands can muster throughout an entire album. A very straightfoward track, it does well to set the stage for what is to come, imbuing the listener with a sense of unease that is common from Mikko's works. Unlike many others, he understands nuance and how subtle things can dramatically alter the complexion of a song. It's been satisfying to witness his development as a musician and to see how his songwriting has improved up to this point. A dynamic song like "Tragedy of Humanization" would never have lived up to its full potential on an album like Night of the Unholy Flames, for example. Rather than a collection of disjointed riffs, this track flows from one idea to the next, seamlessly, managing to create a cohesive whole. The varying paces never seem at odds with each other, and it all works to produce the desired effect.

The production is much more organic than most modern releases, utilizing both analog and digital recording techniques. The sound is clear enough to pick up on what's going on, but doesn't sound sterile or fake. Whereas a band like Sargeist is recording on modern equipment and then trying to make it sound more raw in post-production, Tranquility of Death sounds real. This is a very important factor when it comes to songwriting that is so genuine and honest. The gloomy atmosphere of songs such as "Blood of the Enlightenment" would have been killed off with the aforementioned approach in recording. As well, the more mid-paced and old school sounding section of the song would not have come across as well.

Thankfully, Mikko possesses a deep understanding of this music. From the songwriting to the recording to the final arrangement of each track, Tranquility of Death demonstrates a great deal of skill and vision. He knew precisely what he wanted to achieve with this outing. Several of his previous albums featured at least one or two clunkers, songs that just didn't work all that well and were detrimental to the overall momentum of the albums. This record presents no such flaws. Much like Harmony of Struggle, everything fits together very well. The compositions are memorable and well-executed, none more so than the title track. From the Burzum-esque intro to the more intense sections, "Tranquility of Death" is such a masterfully-crafted song. Mikko has always had a knack for creating something unique within the existing framework of black metal, but this is truly a monument to everything that he has done. Even the Tom Warrior riffs blend in and are used well, unlike attempts from years ago. The acoustic bits also add another dimension and help with the absolutely epic feel of this piece.

The lyrics offer a glimpse into the mind of a man that sees the truth of this rotten world. Weakness and decadence have destroyed the potential of mankind, leaving a pathetic mass of braindead slaves. And yet the final message is one of optimism, a vow to continue the war against the great lie. Despite the abundance of melancholic and dismal riffs that are found throughout the album, it is not utterly nihilistic.

Tranquility of Death, easily, stands up to the best albums from Mikko's past, such as Deliverers of Faith and Harmony of Struggle. While the last couple Clandestine Blaze albums had a few issues and didn't quite live up to their full potential, this one is definitely essential for any fan of this project. In an age when it often feels like you've heard it all and most bands are cheap tenth-generation copies of what came before, this is an album that upholds the traditions of black metal and yet possesses a very distinctive identity of its own. This is highly recommended.

(4 Jan. 2019)