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One-trick goat - 75%

iamntbatman, June 21st, 2016

Germany's Shores of Ladon have been a strong favorite of mine in recent years, helping push the German scene into an ever more favorable position in my vague heirarchy of scenes worth following in the contemporary world of black metal. While that band has grown steadily more Finnish-sounding recently, leaning heavily on skyward-reaching melodic tremolo lines cloaked in obsidian. They, and the somewhat similarly minded Gratzug and Sarkrista, have established a respectable body of work in this vein. It's just about my favorite flavor of the black stuff, and Shores of Ladon do it far better than most.

I think an important part of why they've been so successful has been due to this side project by two of the main players in Shores of Ladon's sound. While even that very band name evokes images of some icy lakeside scene, the moniker "Shroud of Satan" is similarly descriptive of the sort of thing going on in this project. You won't find anything remotely uplifting in At the Behest of Time unless your sense of "uplifting" derives from the warm swelling in your chest as you witness the mighty crushing of the cross in the fist of the satanist. Alright, they come dangerously close to melancholy on the title track, but that could very well serve as a victory song sung in triumph in the dark lord's mead halls rather than some lament for starlight filtered through barren tree branches or something like that.

So, surely, this is more Behexen than it is Virvatulet. Drummer B (Bavragor) takes over the microphone duties that he once held in Shores of Ladon from S (St.). While they're not totally different from one another, both hitting a high, scathing register, B tends to front-load the emotiveness in his delivery into the beginning of each syllable, searing out the held notes in a way that sort of brings to mind Hat from Gorgoroth. Drumming alternates deftly between a militant mid-paced clip (expected rock and polka beats) and brisk blasting, but it's the guitars that are the real driving force here. They've got that swarming beehive sound going pretty well, delivered via aggressive, blood-and-testosterone tremolo lines. I actually wish the band had gone for a slightly different guitar tone here, as the sort of uniform buzzing tone kind of pushes out a lot of the dynamics of these relatively simple riffs, robbing them of a bit of their percussive power. I could see how this tone would be devastating at high volume in an enclosed space, but layered as it is in the recording it's too indistinct for what it's trying to convey.

The riffs themselves get the job done. Note and chord choices are very workman-like, delivered in a nonstop stream of tremolo. It is at turns wonderful to get caught up in the relentlessness of it, the unending darkness like a comfortable ritual of bloodletting, which in all fairness it probably is to these guys. Even so, I think some more dynamic rhythmic patterns in the riffing itself would have gone a really long way in helping to mold more memorable songs. Half-time breaks, some thrashier bits, some cloven-hoof doom stomps - anything to break up the single-minded max-speed picking and evenly-spaced chord changes would've been welcome respite. In this regard, this album is actually somewhat of a regression for Shroud of Satan, who oddly showed a more nuanced and varied approach on the Litany to the Moon EP. Could be that they felt that sort of stuff was too fancy and subtle for Shroud of Satan?

Whatever the case may be, I can't help but feel like this full-length is a pretty serious step back for Shroud of Satan. Compared directly with the previous EP, the production is worse, the riffs are far less memorable and dynamic, and the 36-minute runtime actually starts to get a bit tiresome, whereas Litany to the Moon left me craving more of that savage satanic goodness. Hopefully the boys have this stuff out of their system, as it sounds like it was about ten times more enjoyable to play than it is to listen to. Not that this is really bad in any really seriously offensive way, but knowing for certain that the musicians involved here are perfectly capable of writing much more effective and catchy tunes than this does add a certain amount of frustration to this otherwise pretty straightforward listening experience. Check out the EP instead.