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another welcome surpise - 91%

crazpete, January 30th, 2006

An eyebrow-raising first 30 seconds begin this work. Not being a fan of ‘putting away your remedial-high-school homework and grabbing a beer to pump your fist for the sake of metal while your mom’s not looking’ 80’s sing-along metal vocals yelling of the same word (in this case a hearty ‘yeah!’), I was given significant pause from continuing to listen to this. But the riff immediately following it put me in my place – and that place is a near-total sense of awe at the power, creativity, immediacy, and urgency of this at times laconic-sounding melodic black metal act.

For those not familiar with Taake, imagine the melodic sensibilities of the later Norweigan black metal greats such as Satyricon (specifically from the Shadowthrone to Nemesis Divina-era) combined with a sometimes very classical sense of harmony similar to Dissection or even Obtained Enslavement, and at other times a very broad and expansive organic harmonic sound definitely inspired by Burzum but sounding more akin to acts like Kvist and Shade.

Guitars are far and away the foundation and the focus of this body of work. Sweeping and epic lines of melody and harmony move erratically across the emotional landscape this album presents like packs of wolves. The melodic and harmonic aspects are far from being tied to any one influence or even genre – they seem to move fluidly and with satisfying arrangement between old-school 80’s metal flourishes and breakdowns (as in the riff that stands in staunch defiance to the preceeding one at 1:08 in the second song) to classically composed somber sections (the riff at 3:28 of the same song) that move energetically, to sections of epic and organic riffing as folk and jazz chords spin together like bizarrely-shaped cogs in a alien machine (such as the outro to the second song starting at 4:13).

This sensibility of hybrid-style riffing within the same songs is certainly nothing new for the band, but is more pronounced here than on any previous album. In this sense the album strikes me as thankfully being more forward-looking than stagnant, although it definitely still sounds like the same band…just evolved a bit.

For the fourth offering from a band to stay consistently well-crafted, fresh, and yet not alienating is a mark of true artistry that sets Taake apart from most contemporaries. The other factor is a deep emotional core to the music. The arrangement, melodies, harmonies, and tones presented on the album conjure up feelings not only of awe and might and darkness, but also of fragility, doubt, pain, and even confusion. The musical motifs here are epic not in the sense that they convey images of heathen Vikings triumphing in battle (they do that as well) but also a sense that forces larger than human are at work in a drama one can only portray but never fully reveal. That sense of the dramatic epic is present here. These senses of epic drama and emotional complexity are a central aspect of what makes truly outstanding black metal so rewarding to listen to, and this band continues to display that on this album. The album is not perfect, but is solid and enjoyable the whole way through.

However, this album does something to be desired. The most consistent critical thought that comes to me when listening to this is that most songs need more editing before being set in stone: riffs repeat too often and refrains of the simplest riffs, as opposed to refrains of sections of complex riffing, come sometimes too frequently and for too long.

Overall this album is a welcome addition to the resume of an outstanding modern black metal outfit. While not perfect, is it exceptional and worthy of close and frequent listening.