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An excellent example of artistic black metal! - 92%

SvalbardDave, February 19th, 2008

Every once in a while there emerges a really exceptional black metal project that shows an amazing level of musical vision and talent. Slechtvalk is one such group. Once a one-man project, Slechtvalk now has no less than six members and a few guest artists, incorporating a very formidable operatic female vocalist and flute player, keyboards and choir.

That Slechtvalk is also classified as a Christian black metal group should only serve to pique one's curiosity. If one gets past the stereotype that black metal has to be satanic and just focuses on the art within the music, only then can one have an open mind and be able to analyze the music honestly. It should be noted, though, that Slechtvalk is not one to be too "preachy" with their lyrics, different from the many Christian metal bands that emerged in the 1980s, whose only purpose was to preach using heavy music.

Slechtvalk's third full-length release on Fear Dark Records, "At The Dawn Of War", features cover artwork once again by Kris Verwimp, a favorite among Northern European black metal artists, ten songs lasting over fifty-one minutes and a choir of seven members, five of whom are not in the group. The overall musical theme rests solidly in the black metal camp, but with so many references to war, also flirting with a classification of Viking metal. Since, however, the references of war are not specifically to the Vikings or any of their undertakings, this isn't the case. At any rate, the production and mixing are top-notch and leave little to complain about. The songs each have their strengths and, it is evident that a lot of thought went into the arrangement of the songs on the recording itself.

The album opens with an instrumental, "From Out Of The Mist We Came Forth (Rise of a Legend Part I)", a folky number which features both Ohtar and soprano vocalist Fionnghuala on flute. When reaching the second track, "Call To Arms", the light mood of the piece is invaded by the "sinister" foreboding of vocalist Fionnghuala singing a haunting harmony which echoes above sounding battle horns, guitars and a rich synth pad. The intro gives way to an almost imminent brutality of abundant death screams and driving double-bass drums. The rhythm is clear and the precision is ultra-tight. Not long into the song the clean vocals of Ohtar come in, which take some getting used to, because he sings in the bass register. To add to the mystique of the tune, interludes which return to a more serene posture elect to challenge your view of how a bass-and-soprano vocalist combo could possibly work. Well, I'll tell you: it's halfway in the mixing and halfway in the timbre of the vocalists. You can really hear the excellent work of the former in the transitioning to and from this interlude. Of particularly honorable mention is the precision drumming of Grimbold which, when focused on, reall shows an extraordinary amount of talent and poise during the aforementioned interlude. At just over eight minutes, this song stands out as a masterpiece on the album.

"Mortal Serenity" showcases more of the ability to cut into a grooving crunch, however the element of rhythm guitars seems to lag behind that of the others in the song, and this would stand out as a slight low point in the running theme of "Rise of a Legend". It is not that the riffwork is not on tempo; it's that it takes slightly too long for the crunch to really set in. The necessary change, however, would be extremely subtle and the relative skill of the guitarist stands against questioning.

Black metal as a genre is done a proud service for the next big entry, "On The Eve Of Battle", which showcases the equally proud melodic strumming style in the guitarwork and steady pounding of double bass drums. Blastbeats are not a key element in this song, taking a respectful backseat to the overall melody of the piece. As a postlude to this fantastic song is the keyboard work of Hydrith using an acoustic-piano sound which serenely performs the same melody. "Besieged" contains much of the same black metal magic with the addition of harmonic male clean vocals and abounding blastbeats. At three minutes and change, this song is a real carrier in the theme without being too swarthy and pretentious an entry.

"The Spoils Of Treason" is another heavy-hitter actually for its weighty lyrics, dealing mostly with the idea of giving up on the fight and attempting to unreasonably settle with the enemy. The theme of the album takes a bleak turn at this point, and as a matter of fact, lyrically, does not count towards the six-part epic "Rise of a Legend". Returning with the theme however is "Thunder Of War", which was released as a maxi-single, and for good reason: simply put, this song is a monster! It's got everything you want in an artistic black metal masterpiece: melodic guitarwork, diverse vocal arrangements, pounding drumwork, and an all-around rousting spirit of mayhem and majesty, all wrapped up in a four-minute package.

This would appear to wrap up the six-part "Rise of a Legend" saga, as a lyrical theme. The overall theme regarding the song arrangement carries confidently onward with "Black Raven Dead", a poignant metaphor for their cause, dealing with the majestic falcon's hunt for prey. Of all the things to hunt for, the falcon picks off a black raven, a symbol of bad omen and sometimes evil. "Desertion" continues swiftly thereafter, again a compact entry with no real weaknesses, however no real glories to speak of with respect to the rest of the album.

Finally, "Under A Moonlit Sky" issues a slightly softer, more poetic introduction, with spoken (well, more like "groaned") passages throughout. It is this approach, presumably an attempt at gentle beauty, which falls somewhat under par, for Ohtar's bass voice cannot hope to do a lot to soothe one's nerves, even if he is speaking of weeping softly and little forest animals. These would've been passages more appropriate for the beautiful voice of Fionnghuala.

Still, however, the point is made that each song gels to an overall musical theme, and that every song belongs there and in its place. While it is sad to know that Fionnghuala is considered no longer part of the group, the entire project itself is now considered to be on hold, so for as long as there is a future for Slechtvalk, there is chance for Fionnghuala to join the group.

I would definitely say that this album belongs in the collection of every artistic black metal fan, be they Christian or otherwise. I'm giving this album a score of 92 out of 100.

Great release by a promising band - 90%

I_breathe_spears, April 27th, 2007

At The Dawn of War starts off with a slow, somewhat repetitive tune, which for 3 or so minutes can seem a little boring. But once it transitions into the next track, you just know the rest of the album is going to be incredible. The raw guitars and skillfully played drums are only a part of the formula. Probably the one main aspect of this album that is different than the previous one is the addition of an all-male choir. Their voices boom along with the rasp of the lead singer, and all their parts are placed well. If there were one thing that made this album, the choir would be it. The keys and female vocals help complete the formula and are also well executed.

The songs don't vary in speed all that much, except for a couple fast-paced ones (Mortal Serenity and Black Raven Dead being the more notable ones.) The tempo throughout the album stays around the mid range, not too slow or too fast. Though unlike the last album, it doesn't seem to drudge along. The songs all have main riffs that catch your attention quite well, and have a nice flowing quality between each other, which helps add to the storytelling feel that the album's lyrics give.

The lyrics are centered on warriors who are allied with other kingdoms of the land, to fight the "black armies", and their ensuing escapades and tragedies. At many points in the album the lyrics mention a falcon, which was sent from one of the allied armies. A probable reason that the falcon plays an important role in the story is that the band's name is the Dutch name for the peregrine falcon. The lyrics are very well written, and really add to the atmosphere that the music creates. Some reviewers even call this release "War" or "Battle" metal because of the epic atmosphere depicted in both the lyrics and music.

Overall this release contains a great example of symphonic/melodic black metal, and shows that while a band may be "Christian" it doesn't mean that the music suffers. The only gripe I have is that the songs could have been a bit more varied in sound. It's definitely something worth checking out.