Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

A nocturnal masterpiece of black arts - 96%

Hellish_Torture, September 26th, 2015

Dark Funeral is often referred as the band who paved the way for all the countless modern “hyper-blasting black metal” acts. Around early 1996, some famous black metal bands (such as Immortal and Cradle of Filth) had already applied a hyperactive, death metal-like kind of blast-beat on their past albums (in opposition to the more basic and stripped down approach of bands like Darkthrone) - yet no one could ever expect the impact that Dark Funeral’s debut, released on No Fashion Records during the dismal month of January 1996, would have on the ever-growing black metal scene of that time. “The Secrets of the Black Arts” is pretty much the founder of a certain subcategory of black metal (particularly proficient in Sweden thanks to bands like Setherial, Enthroned and then, later, the genre-pioneers Marduk as well) where the drumming is even more intense, more chaotic and more “on steroids” than usual, occupying at least 95% of an album - often coupled with a certain melodic riffing-style that’s pretty typical among Swedish black/death metal bands in general. Yet, apart from all the hype coming from this historical detail, very few people seem to analyze this album in its completeness - and, even worse, fewer people give the right credit to Necrophobic mastermind David Parland, aka Blackmoon, who actually is the founder of Dark Funeral along with the much more praised Lord Ahriman.

The band’s debut EP can already be considered as one of the greatest black metal masterpieces of all time (and it’s honestly my favourite release ever made by Ahriman & co.): seeing its incredibly quick sales, Dark Funeral didn’t waste any time, and soon they entered again into Dan Swanö’s Unisound Studio to finally record their first full-length; however, the band (Blackmoon in particular) wasn’t satisfied at all about how the recordings turned out this time, due to Swanö’s new equipment - so, they re-recorded the album again with Peter Tägtgren in his newborn Abyss Studio. While I don’t find the original Unisound version to be all that bad, the Abyss version captures much better the dark, solemn atmosphere for which the band was striving at that time; in fact, whilst the album starts with the title-track, you suddenly feel like an endless rain of sharp, icy nails is falling upon you, hurting your skin without any mercy.

Since Tägtgren at that time wasn’t a really experienced producer (having opened his studio just some months before the Dark Funeral sessions), he recorded this album with a pretty cheap guitar equipment, and this is why the guitar sound is a bit too thin (pretty much like on Naglfar’s “Vittra”) and often gets buried beneath the piercing rain of clanging blast-beats; however, in this particular case, this little flaw manages to give these riffs an even more distant, outworldly, “mysterious” aura. A distracted listen cannot reveal all ”the secrets” hidden amidst the thin, fragile curtain of Abyss-like guitar distortion: in fact, every time I carefully re-listen to this album, I happen to discover some new details in the riffing, which is actually much more twisted and complex than what you may think.

Apparently, “The Secrets of the Black Arts” is a more straightforward affair in comparison to the debut EP, which showed a very rich alternation of tempos and a spectacular songwriting; now, with the new drummer Equimanthorn, the use of blast-beats has notably increased (reaching Immortal’s levels regarding the ultra-chaotic speed and the hyperactive use of double bass), and the riffing-aesthetic has become more one-dimensional... right? Nope. David Parland’s monumental riffing, clearly influenced by the bitter melodic style of Marduk’s “Those of the Unlight”, is still there - just in a subtler manner: while the melodies contained on the EP were clearer and more defined, now the Blackmoon/Ahriman duo experiments more with subtle harmonies, discordances and various layerings which almost create a subliminal effect on tracks like “The Dawn No More Rises”, “The Fire Eternal” and “Satan’s Mayhem” (probably taking inspiration from some black metal milestones that in the mid-90s were pretty much “novelties”, such as “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, “Pure Holocaust”, “Pentagram”, “Antichrist” or “In the Nightside Eclipse”). Another really surprising trait of these riffs is that, from a rhythmic perspective, they’re as trivial as they can ever get. Yup. As you may already noticed on the self-titled EP, Blackmoon’s riffs mostly revolve around the most obvious and generic rhythmic patterns that had already been abundantly established in black metal when this album was created: just basic 4/4 stuff, without huge alterations in the note-progressions (which now are even more “static” than before, since the band aims to obtain a more “contemplative” style). So, how can these riffs still sound that bloody good? Because, guys... we’re still talking about David Fucking Parland, one of the most genial black metal guitarists ever to come from Sweden along with Jon Nödtveidt and few others!

So, Blackmoon’s melodies have maintained their uniqueness, always conveying their trademark vibe of darkness, cold, sorrow and despair: for example, the title-track offers a lot of memorable and original riffs that, despite their basic rhythmic construction, possess some of the most remarkably sorrowful and desperate melodies ever composed by Parland, dragging you toward total hopelessness. However, the “layered” approach of several riffs gives to many of these melodies an even subtler feeling than before, making every song even more dismal, somber, sinister and dangerous - be it the mournful stateliness of “The Fire Eternal”, the ultra-stratified and variegated riff-fest of “Satan’s Mayhem” or the more straightforward assault of “When Angels Forever Die”. Even Equimanthorn’s drumming work isn’t as one-dimensional as one may think: on the contrary, on this album, the drums have an essential role about determining the pathos and the atmospheric crescendos! Just think about the numerous tempo changes you experience during many songs (and there are more than you think, trust me!) and, most of all, the occasional “stops-and-gos” of songs like “When Angels Forever Die” or even the title-track - which give an even more dramatic/drastic enforcement to the atmosphere, handling and shaping the listener’s tension in a genial manner. By the way... the very few times when the pace actually slows down, these mid-tempos sound even more suggestive and majestic than usual. Who could ever imagine that this band actually knew the meaning of the word “parsimony”? However, instead of using it for the fast parts (as most people would likely recommend them), they did for the slow ones. Just wonderful.

A sense of freezing cold and impending doom is ever-present during these songs (especially palpable on tracks like “Satan’s Mayhem”), as well as a constant nocturnal vibe which is a necessary trademark for early Dark Funeral; however, now, these atmospheres are delivered in slightly different manners from track to track, giving more variety to the band’s sonic concept and, thus, starting the evolution that would later lead them to create albums such as “Vobiscum Satanas” and “Diabolis Interium”. In fact, on one hand, we have a song like “The Dawn No More Rises” that, while still maintaining intact the band’s “somber/dismal/nocturnal” atmosphere, bursts mercilessly with a lot of inflamed riffs which transmit a definitely “hellish” vibe (pretty much like a fire that burns without control in the middle of a snowy Scandinavian forest during a cold, dark night); however, despite the notable amount of energy, you can still feel a vague sense of fatalism and hopelessness in the guitar melodies. On the other hand, we have a song like “Bloodfrozen” which, as the title suggest, is the total opposite affair: it’s a little “gelid” masterpiece (composed 100% by Blackmoon) which starts with some slow, “frozen” arpeggios that will surely turn your bones into pure ice, and then proceeds with some beautiful, mournful tremolo melodies which carry you like chilling winter wind; Themgoroth’s gritty and sorrowful vocals scream intensely: ”I AM IMMORTAL… I AM ETERNAL!!!”

In addition, you’ll even find two re-recorded tracks from the EP. Surprisingly enough, “My Dark Desires” receives a slightly better treatment in comparison to the 1994 version, giving even more charm to the solemn march of the refrain (this time, by the way, the ”Bring damnation upon my soul” section sounds much more genuinely “evil” and definitely less grotesque); and then we have “Shadows over Transylvania”, which remains the greatest Dark Funeral song of all time, although this new version is slightly inferior to the previous one (however, those diabolical haunting melodies are still there in all their dismal drama). Plus, an even more anomalous episode is represented by a cover of “Satanic Blood”, originally by the cult U.S. act Von (of which Blackmoon seemed to be a strong admirer); the band makes a good, faithful reinterpretation, but those who aren’t particularly fond of ultra-minimal black metal might be a little turned off by this track.

After these digressions, the album closes with “Dark Are the Paths to Eternity (A Summoning Nocturnal)”, which delivers some others of those “inflamed/hot-as-hell” riffs which still manage to maintain intact the typical dark vibe of the record (almost seeming to anticipate the formula of “Vobiscum Satanas”) and build up one of the most intense, majestic, bloodcurdling atmospheric crescendos of the whole album - thanks to the really clever use of “semi-discordant” guitar layerings, frightening melodies, “stop-’n’-go” sections filled with endless pathos and even a slightly more “moderated” use of blasting tempos (as incredible as it may seem). This is a perfect translation of apocalypse in music, and you literally feel deprived of any positive hope while you witness the world being set on fire and solemnly falling apart. Themgoroth completes the scheme with his tormented raspy vocals, which I honestly prefer to those of Emperor Magus Caligula (in fact, while the latter remains a great black metal screamer, I think he has given his absolute best as a growler on the first two Hypocrisy records); by the way, this album features some of Dark Funeral’s most “poetic” and variegated lyrics, at least dealing with Satan and occult mythology in a less repetitive manner than on the subsequent albums.

“The Secrets of the Black Arts” is one of the greatest black metal masterpieces of all time, and it’s without doubt the greatest full-length album ever made by Dark Funeral (although their absolute peak remains their self-titled EP); after this, even with a totally different lineup, the band managed to put out other two masterpieces of blasting infernal black metal (the massively dark and morbid “Vobiscum Satanas” and the relentless hellish assault of “Diabolis Interium”), but none of those has been able to outdo what these Swedes have accomplished during their early years, thanks to David Parland’s genius in terms of cold, freezing, nocturnal atmospheres filled with sorrow and misanthropy - something that Lord Ahriman would never be able to recapture. After being kicked out of Dark Funeral, Blackmoon brought some of his more recent artistic visions into his main band Necrophobic (resulting in their best album of all time, “Darkside”), before leaving them as well; since then, until his recent suicide, he managed to keep alive the early Dark Funeral spirit with his other band Infernal (even collaborating again with Themgoroth on the first EP). However, no one will ever replicate the impact that “The Secrets of the Black Arts” had on the unaware black metal crowd, almost twenty years ago: this record easily outdoes any album by the likes of Marduk, Setherial, Enthroned and all the “war metal” stuff that came after. Listen to it with caution.