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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.