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Back when Shaggy hadn’t yet become a clown - 83%

Hellish_Torture, February 18th, 2015

Fimbulwinter is a very curious band, under some points of view: it’s one of the very first Norwegian black metal bands of all time (active around 1992-1994, when the genre wasn’t yet very diffused worldwide), and it was also located around Oslo, which was the fulcrum of the black metal scene of those years... yet, they didn’t seem to have so much contact with important names of the Inner Circle such as Euronymous, Varg Vikernes or Fenriz. I have read several old Mayhem interviews and, correct me if I’m wrong, Euronymous never mentioned Fimbulwinter in his usual lists of “new underground black metal bands that deserved support” (with Varg, the matter is even stricter, since he had a very restricted view of the scene, limited just to the main names). But the most interesting thing about this band is that, in the lineup, there were featured two musicians that were going to become very famous in the future black metal scene: Skoll (later in Arcturus, Ulver and Ved Buens Ende) and Shagrath (of Dimmu Borgir fame). The latter, especially, was destined to become one of the biggest mainstream whores of black metal... but, for all the elitists who think that the members of Dimmu Borgir, Ulver and Arcturus never had a “true black metal” background and just hopped on the bandwagon right from the beginning, this is a severe slap in the face.

“Servants of Sorcery” (originally released in 1992 as a demo and re-released in 1994 as a full-length, with the addition of the bonus track “Roaring Hellfire”) is here to demonstrate that these guys know the meaning of what elitists usually define as “true black metal”. This stuff, if played nowadays, would sound quite derivative, but in 1992 there were just few other bands (and you all know their names) that played stuff like this. Of course, it’s very easy to detect the band’s main influences: Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, pretty much like all the other early Norwegian black metal acts of that time. Songs like “When the Fire Leaps from the Ash Mountain” and “Servants of Sorcery” show a basic formula which is highly reminiscent of “A Blaze in the Northern Sky” (and it’s no surprise, considering the Darkthrone t-shirt on the cover photo): blast-beats and fast riffs (though not necessarily played in tremolo picking) alternated with slower moments, where the riffs become very epic, in the vein of Bathory’s third album. I have to admit, partly contradicting what I said before, that some of the slowest riffs of this record manage to sound very suggestive even if played nowadays: it’s especially the case of “Fimbulwinter Sacrifice” and “Roaring Hellfire”, whose slow and mid-paced parts manage to capture a very solemn, dark, yet still raw atmosphere. Shagrath, on this album, does a great job on guitars.

A definite exception is constituted by the awesome “Black Metal Storm”, which is probably my favourite Fimbulwinter song: the pace gets faster and the mood becomes more akin to rock ’n’ roll, in the same vein of Motorhead, while the riffing completely reminds you of Bathory’s first album, with excellent results. Also with the up-tempo at the beginning of “Roaring Hellfire” you can feel a definite Motorhead vibe, though injected in a more “evil” context, with simple, aggressive and wicked power chords that hit you right in the head. The Celtic Frost cover isn’t really exciting, but it’s funny to hear Necronos abandoning his half-assed scream in favor of an attempt at imitating Tom G. Warrior (still with scarce results, honestly). The organic blend of rawness and occultness featured on this release represents essentially everything early Norwegian black metal was about... and of course, in this regard, you can’t miss the “necro” production! Well, I admit that the audio quality, for a 1992 “kvlt” demo, isn’t really that bad (at least it’s still audible), but the vocals sound still a bit muffled and some drum sounds are really hilarious: I’m not sure if it was a weird metronome sound that was meant to accompany the drummer, or just little tuna cans. Can someone explain me?

However, “Servants of Sorcery” still remains a very good release, especially considering the time when it came out. I admire the band for having acted independently in the underground until the “Norwegian trend” exploded in 1994: then, Shagrath and Skoll tried to find a different way to intend the genre, since it was clear that this kind of sound was gonna be imitated by tons of newborn acts. Skoll clearly succeeded in his intent, joining to some bands that were going to revolutionize black metal in the subsequent years, pushing it through a more experimental path. Shagrath was one of the starters of the Dimmu Borgir project, which revolutionized the conception of “symphonic black metal” during the late-90s, then dumbed it down and commercialized it for the masses during the new millennium. If you want to hear these musicians in a less experimental context (or less commercial, it all depends), or you’re just seeking for hidden Norwegian black metal gems of the early 90s which stand apart from the ordinary historical names, “Servants of Sorcery” will surely satisfy your will.

Servants of Sorcery - 73%

Noctir, October 13th, 2011

Fimbulwinter was a lesser-known Norwegian Black Metal band that may be most notable for including Skoll (later of Arcturus) and Shagrath (later of Dimmu Borgir) in the line-up. The band's one and only full-length album, Servants of Sorcery, was released in 1994 but actually consists of material that was recorded during a 1992 rehearsal and previously available on cassette.

As would be expected of a rehearsal tape, the sound quality is very poor. Of course, the necro production suits the primitive style of music that is played here and most of the instruments are clear enough to be comprehended. The vocals suffer more than anything else, though Necronos (very imaginative name) may not have been a very good vocalist anyway. The mix favours the guitars, thankfully, which is as it should be. Luckily, the drums are not overpowering, as is often the case with rehearsals.

Musically, this is everything that one would anticipate from an album that features a guy in corpse paint wearing a Darkthrone t-shirt. This is raw, primitive Black Metal that utilizes a lot of mid-paced riffs that alternate with tremolo melodies, with standard vocals and an overall ugly vibe. The songwriting shows obvious influences from the aforementioned band, as well as Celtic Frost and even a little Bathory. The former's presence is almost felt more in a way that is filtered through Darkthrone's interpretation; i.e. more derivative of their Celtic Frost-styled riffs than the original band, themselves. These type of riffs are present throughout the album, appearing in every song. Of course, their cover version of "Morbid Tales" should be evidence enough of their prime influence, with even the vocal approach being a strong imitation of Tom Warrior, rather than the typical Second Wave vocal style employed on the rest of the album.

Servants of Sorcery is pretty good, for what it is. While this recording could have been better, there are no huge flaws that detract from the record. The fact the songs came from a 1992 rehearsal tape also lower any expectations that one may have when coming in, but the end result is not too far behind Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant, in terms of sound quality. It is surprising that anyone lame enough to be involved with trash like Dimmu Borgir and Arcturus could have ever played in a band like Fimbulwinter. At any rate, anyone into raw and primitive Black Metal should give this a listen.

Written for

True Norwegian Black Metal - 95%

outPHASE, January 3rd, 2010

Reminiscent of very early Gorgoroth (with Hat on vocals) and the earlier Celtic Frost material, as well as the low production quality of early Bathory. This album shows that you don't have to have too much experience to create amazing black metal.

Each of the songs sounds quite similar, but not in the monotonous way. Each song sounds like it was made by the same band and the band seems to stay true to their genre and their style throughout the whole album.

There are faults with the album though, although they are not many, and I am able to overlook them, they are fairly important and more picky fans might knit-pick the whole album based on the faults. The first problem, I find, is that the drumming seems kind of sloppy at certain times. The drummer is skilled though, his blast beats and such were fantastic on this album, and he did seem to set the speed of the music, but there were certain times when it seemed as though he might have slightly lost his grip in the drumsticks. This isn't that major though, as standard black metal fans that aren't too critical probably wouldn't notice it, in fact, it's probably just me, but it does kind of show that the music isn't polished and it is in pure and raw form since those slip ups can easily have been covered up.

Another fault is the vocals, some songs such as Raging Hellfire seemed to have VERY few words, and a lot of screaming. It would be nice if they found a balance between words and shouts. I'm not trying to say, though, that the vocalist is unskilled, he's one of the best singers I've ever heard in black metal.

Now that the downsides have been covered, the upsides are much more numerous and far more important.

First off, I find the guitarist (Shagrath) fantastic in this album. The riffs he plays aren't boring and repetitive unlike many black metal albums I hear nowadays such as Gorgoroth's "Destroyer," they are at times quite melodic and they give the music more flow and melody (obviously.)

The speed of the music here isn't unbelievably fast, verging on becoming death metal, but it's not Xasthur slow. The pace is usually mid-high, so it's quite fast but not too fast, and I find that a lot of really good black metal bands play at that same range of speed such as Enslaved, Immortal and Mayhem.

One thing I really enjoyed doing, while listening to this album, is to try and figure out what Necronos was saying while singing, even though I could never do it. This brings me to my next point, I, for some reason, found it enjoyable that the lyrics were incomprehensible, and I can see that I'm probably not the only person that find them incomprehensible, almost none of the songs have the lyrics posted here. Normally I find that comprehensible vocals are a must but I guess the instrumentals here made up for that and made it work somehow (I don't know how.)

The greatest quality of the album, in my opinion, is the atmosphere that it is able to create for the listener. While listening to the music I felt as if I really am in a scary, inescapable hell, and if this is what Fimbulwinter was going for, then they did a damn good job. It's not often that music makes me feel this way, but when it happens it's the best part of any song. If the atmosphere that is created is good, that means that the music is good, and the vocals are good, everything is good, because that's what atmosphere is a result of; synergy and sound.

To conclude my rambling and to summarize the album, Fimbulwinter's Servants of Sorcery is an album the embodies all the good things about black metal and is a fantastic trip down black metal's timeline. It is a demonstration of what black metal was back in the 90's for those people like me that were born too late to experience the first and second waves of black metal in all their glory.