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Ophthalamia - Via Dolorosa - 90%

ravenhearted, November 10th, 2009

With their second album, It (ABRUPTUM) and his OPHTHALAMIA-project further developed the oddball-sound of "A Journey In Darkness", pushing hard against the boundaries of what is accepted in Black Metal circles. Bringing in Legion (who later departed to MARDUK) to take Jon Nödtveidt's place behind the microphone, and Emil Nödtveidt (who later formed DEATHSTARS), "Via Dolorosa" also saw the band bring out heavy influences from Jazz and Progressive Rock.

For those of us who don't mind catchiness and uplifting hooks in our Black Metal (which I use as a loose term in this context), "Via Dolorosa" is a garden of unearthly delights. The lead guitar constantly keeps bringing in new melodies and often quite complex structures, which at its most basic sounds reminiscent of DISSECTION, but when it peaks sounds like nothing you've ever heard before. The bass and drums are pushed back in the mix, which makes this one of the most blatantly guitar-driven Extreme Metal albums I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. The band keeps pulling off strange twists and turns, but by coming so far from the left-field their quirkiness becomes a strength rather than a hindrance. Legion's raw growls are complimented with soft whispers, and the somewhat awkward female vocals from "A Journey In Darkness" have pleasantly disappeared.

The kvlt kids can sit in mom's basement decrying this strange album as "gay" or "sell-out" all they want, but the truth of the matter is that OPHTHALAMIA makes no compromises with their completely unmatched sound. If this album was originally released in 2009, it would doubtlessly be tagged as "avant-garde", paving the way for later jazzy Black Metal endeavors. "Via Dolorosa" is an immensely welcome fresh breath of air in the thick smog that genre purists keep getting their upturned noses stuck in.

(Online November 6, 2009)

Ailo Ravna

Written for the Metal Observer