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Manifestations 2002 - 85%

Noctir, September 19th, 2011

Deathspell Omega is a rather odd entity within the realm of Black Metal. This French band, like many others, began their career playing a style of music that owed a great deal to early Darkthrone. Yet, instead of merely copying their idols, they added their own eerie mark. Over the course of a handful of releases, they seemed to be on a fairly predictable course, though this is not to say that the quality was not high enough. However, after a couple years of silence, they shocked many with Si Momumentum Requires, Circumspice. This represented a drastic departure from their previous path, with no warning. Many fans were turned off by the new style, as well as the new vocalist. With each new release, the band got further away from their original sound and alienated a lot of listeners. However, in 2008 those who preferred the earlier period of Deathspell Omega were given a gift.

Shortly after Inquisitors of Satan, the band recorded enough material for a new full-length. The songs were supposedly intended for a couple different split releases, though it would have made more sense to just release it all as the band's third L.P. At any rate, this music was not released and it remained buried for several years. What can be heard here is the next logical step in the band's evolution, and the missing link between their second and third albums. This is also the final material to feature Shaxul, who always suited the band more as a vocalist than Mikko.

The music falls in line with what one would expect, following Inquisitors of Satan. Most of the songs are fast-paced, with a lot of blasting drums and tremolo-picked riffs. This is all straight from the old school Darkthrone playbook, yet the style of melodies is something of their own invention. There is a sombre quality to many of the riffs, as well as a lot of tension and chaos. The vocals add to this sense, sounding very unrestrained. Some riffs hearken back to the First Wave bands, such as Hellhammer, but one has to wonder if this was a direct influence or if it came filtered through Darkthrone. The first several tracks would not have been out of place on the band's earlier albums, though these songs may not have stood out quite as much.

"Monotonous Ecstasy of Death" is where the band displays hints of their new direction. In a way, this picks up where "Decadence" left off, yet it also bears similarities with the record that would follow. This song is more mid-paced and features a somewhat unsettling main riff. While listening to this, it is easy to fall into a sort of trance and to see visions from one's own nightmares tearing through the fabric of reality and manifesting in this dimension. Just as the blood begins to flow, the pace picks up and a sense of urgency comes over you.

The next song, "Forever Cold", maintains the intensity until around the middle, when it slows down and the guitars take on an eerie sound, once more. For the most part, this one sticks to the same formula as on the previous album, despite the brief hints of their future path.

"Procreation Epidemic" features more of the type of chords that are found on Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, mixed in with more traditional tremolo melodies. The song utilizes some variation in tempo, though it remains fast-paced for the majority of the time. The blending of the two is very well-done and serves to create a hellish feeling; an epic sense of misery combined with a nightmarish desperation to slice open one's veins and to escape the bonds of flesh through an ever flowing stream of blood.

The final two tracks are more standard, with minor hints of the new sound that was creeping in, but nothing terribly interesting or essential. This goes to show that while the band was growing and adding new elements to their sound, around this time, they were still firmly rooted in the early 90's Scandinavian scene, most notably Darkthrone. They did it quite well and it was a shame when things fell apart for this band.

While their current output is utter trash and has nothing to do with Black Metal, these songs hearken back to better days. Manifestations 2002 is a rare look into the past of Deathspell Omega, before they jumped on the Orthodox Black Metal bandwagon and betrayed their original vocalist. For those who consider their later era to be a descent down a foul and unpleasant path, this recording should remind you of what this band was once capable of. If you are a fan of Infernal Battles and Inquisitors of Satan, then this album is a must-have.

Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com

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.

Unearthing a Hidden Chapter - 94%

Zephyrus, January 24th, 2009

2007 saw the release of "Fas – Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum" as the second panel in a monumental triptych begun three years prior. It was a clear departure from many standards of Black Metal, even the revolutionary "Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice." Many fans embraced this new brand of dark, calculated chaos. Abandoned were those too conservative to stray beyond their Black Metal orthodoxy.

For this latter group (but really all DsO fans in general) the "Manifestations" compilations are a glorious blessing. We feel like archaeologists who discovered a lost history. This is especially true on "Manifestations 2002", of which no material was released prior. Like filling in gaps in the fossil record, we can now appreciate how these French Darkthrone worshippers evolved into the apotheosis of Black Metal’s 3rd wave.

So you can see why those wary of the latest material are beyond excitement. Just the artwork itself foreshadows the storm of darkness and hatred unleashed upon pressing play. “Tyrants And Slaves” delivers such an assault, with relentless blast-beats and oppressive riffing. Rasping amidst the tempest are Shaxul’s shrieks, higher pitched than Mikko’s signature growls, reflective of the band’s adolescence. This track also showcases the haunting melodies their lead guitars are capable of.

As a transition piece, "Manifestations 2002" reveals a step up in complexity and a firmer grip on their craft. With this they rise to a level beyond even their countrymen Antaeus’s latest output, "Blood Libels." But amidst this passion and vigor we find elements employed in their later material. For example, “Procreation Epidemic” contains the same melody used to greater effect in “Kénôse II” three years later. With this compilation (though all from a single recording session) the jump from the formulaic "Inquisitors of Satan" to "Si Monumentum…" no longer seems miraculous, but a logical progression. The music itself is evidence of a turbulent era, from which Shaxul departed the band, citing the clandestine philosophy that DsO was adopting.

This is by no means a money-grabber compilation of B-sides. This was material intended for release, but pushed aside in preparation for the band’s monolithic breakthrough. Currently on their way to the trinity’s conclusion, the band has unveiled a hidden chapter crucial to understanding the coalescence of a cryptic vision. And even for those new to the band, this is the perfect place to start. For this is supreme quality Black Metal by any standards: vicious, melancholy, and dark as the depths of Erebus. "Manifestations 2002 is" further proof that Deathspell Omega are the pontifices maximi of post-millennium Black Metal.