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An underrated yet well recognized gem - 90%

Iron Wizard, July 28th, 2017

Dark Funeral is an interesting band. They are one of the most well known black metal bands from Sweden, alongside Marduk, Dissection, and Watain. Almost all black metal listeners are aware of their debut, and the album, entitled The Secrets of the Black Arts is heavily praised for its immersive album cover. It's almost a visual portal into the music contained within, depicting a bluish nightsky shrouding a slightly frosted, castle-like structure of stone. Several hooded figures appear to be partaking in some sort of clandestine ritual, standing around a mysterious tarp-covered object. As an additional touch, sparse trees and boulders stand on the mountains in the background. It's a true work of art, and it certainly deserves the praise it gets.

A very short ambient intro poorly titled "The Dark Age Has Arrived" precedes the album's title track. I'm glad a well known band had already burnt out this title; fortunately, black metal is otherwise free of bands calling their songs "The Dark Age Has Arrived". The piece is nothing significant, and it might as well have been nominally annexed into the next track. Once the real black metal kicks in, you are in for a relentless storm of energy and darkness. That may be a cliche descriptor, but there are few albums where this is more apt than this one. There are no real breaks to speak of, no soft clean sections, no ambient songs etc. From "The Secrets of the Black Arts" onward to the last track, "Dark Are the Paths of Eternity (A Summoning Nocturnal)", this album is a barrage of pure melodic fury. Normally, I don't like this kind of black metal, but Dark Funeral have executed it very well here. I think the melodic sensibilities of tracks like the title track, and the very memorable "My Dark Desires" do this album great favors, really saving it from sounding like Watain, Funeral Mist, or 1349.

The musicianship here is what one would expect from a black metal album. They are all competent musicians and players, but in lieu of doing anything flashy, they do an excellent job of keeping the tempos precise and perfect sounding. Equimanthorn (who shouldn't be confused with the other Equimanthorn) is a fucking badass behind the kit. I am primarily a guitarist, but this makes me want to learn drums, and I would if they weren't such an involved instrument. He's somewhat of a tyrant; he uses a lot of blastbeats (which I typically do not like), but he is very skilled at it and adds a lot of flavor into them, employing more pseudo-auxiliary drums such as the hi-hats. He is also a master when it comes to fills. Blackmoon is the lead guitarist, and probably the main driving force behind this record. I read somewhere else that he played many of Lord Ahriman's guitar parts due to the latter being drunk, and the prominent change in sound after Blackmoon's departure suggests to me that he was invaluable to this album.

The production is absolutely godly. When I first heard this, I remarked at its sound. While it has all of the rawness of a typical black metal record, it seems to have this symphonic overtone, with a source that cannot be identified. I actually had to check and see if Dark Funeral were a symphonic metal band. In actuality, this album is mostly devoid of keyboards. While the instruments are all very concrete, with the sharpness requisite to cut through steel, they are given a huge amount of room to bleed into the background, reminding you that the space between notes is not entirely devoid. The way the guitars fill up the album is probably what creates this atmospheric "symphonic" element. I'd also like to mention that the dual guitar nature of the band has been well utilized here, with the layering being used very effectively to create a haunting "wall of sound".

Before closing this review, I will make mention of the album's standout songs. The title track is essentially pure darkness. It embodies a very serious tone as the lead guitar melodies create an almost neoclassical feel. "My Dark Desires", while simplistic, is another great song, and probably the catchiest on here. One can never forget when the music becomes a sludgy abyss of chords as Themgoroth shrieks out "Bring damnation upon my soul!". Dark Funeral covered Von's Satanic Blood. It's a very minimalistic song, and it is a little disruptive in this context It's a standout, but not in a good way; it is probably the worst song on The Secrets of the Black Arts. If you are interested in black metal, this is an album that you should have, especially if you are new to the genre. Hail Dark Funeral for the first and last masterpiece they would create...