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Absolutely Mandatory DSO: The Final Chapter - 90%

sublime_wreckage, January 25th, 2009

Ahhh... now THIS is what nature intended when Deathspell Omega was cut from the shocked quartz fragments of pioneer black metal monoliths Hellhammer, Sodom, Darkthrone, Mayhem, etc. The 2008 release of 'Manifestations: 2002' represents a complete album of "lost" material that resides somewhere on the crossroads of 'Inquisitors of Satan' and 'Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice'. It bears the black mark of Shaxul's final outing with the band; perhaps the fate, and final achievement, of the original line-up was always written in the cards... preordained by the threads of fate. And, of course, where upheaval is found, inevitably change will follow. And so Mikko Aspa, having had prior contact with the band, was evidently waiting in the wings for his opportunity, wheezing with baited breath.

For me, Clandestine Blaze has been a consistently solid force within the Finnish bm scene. However, when considering the whole of Aspa's musical catalog, I can't say I was ever a real fan of his. The majority of the musical projects he's endeavored in, for which I've heard, have a distinct air about them that wreaks of a sweaty, lumbering, misogynistic, night-stalking repugnance that I cannot shake. It just gets under my skin. That being said, his arrival marked a pronounced change in the band's overall sound for which they would come to be known for, and popularized, by fans and critics alike. In my opinion, he didn't do 'Si Monumentum...' any favors with his vocal styling. While the performance was somewhat similar to that of his Clandestine Blaze efforts, there's a distinct difference to it. It's grimier, and more foul sounding... and I suppose that's the whole idea behind it. But it leaves me wondering, if not longing for, how the album would have sounded if Shaxul had still be on board, and they had stayed true to their production standards and guitar sound found on previous albums. 'Fas - Ite, Maledicti...' marks way too significant a change from what the band was, fundamentally, on prior albums. In my humble opinion 'Fas - Ite..' and its following releases are a mostly foul and unpalatable tripe that I do not enjoy. The resolute focus on droning, dissonance and numerous, abrupt tempo changes with a lack of any focus or structure, to the detriment of all else, is just unbearable. Now compound that with Aspa's foul, excremental sounding vocals, and you have recipe for some real toxic sludge. Just not my cup of tea, so to speak.

Gripes with performance artists and changing vision aside, 'Manifestations: 2002' is the missing link in the chain that connects the 2nd wave bm worshiping clan, to full-fledged juggernaut horde of progressive, black metal orthodoxy. As the final puzzle piece in DsO's expansive discography, it is one of a certain, special magnitude and charm. Now you might know already, but the material on this compilation was originally slated for two individual releases: 1) Crushing The Holy Trinity Compilation, and 2) a split with a group called Cantus Bestiae. The split never happened, and a massive track written around the time of the Kenose EP was used for the Holy Trinity compilation. Fortunately for fans of the older material, the essence of this release retains an alkaline quality in much of the same vein as 'Inquisitors of Satan' and the split with Clandestine Blaze.

The music found on early releases is fundamentally a full-throttle synthesis of 'Morbid Tales' Celtic Frost, 'In the Sign of Evil' Sodom & 'Transilvanian Hunger' Darkthrone. This album is all that and more. Being filtered through enough buzz-saw feedback to out-spook a screech owl's trill, it aims to please fans on 'Inquisitors of Satan' and the like. Drumming here is fairly competent, rigorous blast-beating throughout; on the whole, it seems mostly supplemental to the compositional tension, occupying a consistently solid presence in the mix. Not to be outdone, Shaxul's vocal performance proves once and for all that his chops are just as razor sharp as they day they were cut... providing one of the most stirring performance of his career with the band. The venomous quality of his cords are abundantly evident at the onset of this treacherous affair. He even manages to give a more rousing and eclectic an effort on tracks 3 and 7 than had ever been heard before. On the whole, the song-writing was also taking a turn for the better at this time, heading toward what would be ubiquitously hailed as the penultimate era of the band, and their songcraft.

Being that this is the last effort put forth by the old lineup, I can easily recommend it as a highlight showcase for their old-school approach to modern black metal; the 2nd wave aesthetic intact for one last time. And yet, the leanings towards a more progressive song-writing style is evident throughout. The slightly longer song lengths give the tracks room to gallop, and DsO builds upon their fundamental craft thru an expansion of guitar harmonic technique. This was achieved by creating a droning, and at times repetitive, atmosphere spurred on by compositions deemed more unconventional within the framework of raw, 2nd wave black metal. But there is clear delineation of intent here. Straying from the traditional structures and artifices of old wasn't some abrupt paradigm shift, as anyone who has heard their early split releases can attest to. To break their change down to just "repetitive droning" wouldn't do what the band was achieving at this point any justice. I am reminded of other orthodox releases, some of which immediately come to mind are Ondskapt's 'Dodens Evangelium' and Flagellant's 'Monuments', but with 'Manifestations: 2002' being a distinctly more dissonant and high-octane incarnation. Perhaps the best frame of reference here is DsO themselves, as there's quite a bit of 'Inquisitors...' style that can be heard in this release (as opposed to 'Infernal Battles', for example). But it is done with even more of a focus on moving into that sphere of "orthodoxy" they would come to be known for. Much more obstreperous, atonal and droning than ever before ("Monotonous Ecstasy of Death" is a great example of this, albeit one of the slower offerings on the album).

This is a truly unique offering in the Deathspell discography and shouldn't be missed by fans on either side of the stylistic argument. This is the final chapter in the book of absolutely mandatory Deathspell Omega, as far as I'm concerned. If you like 'Inquisitors...' and 'Manfestations: 2000-2001' you should find a lot to get excited over.