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Near perfection. - 99%

TimeAndDust, July 11th, 2008

I think the problem with a lot of modern black metal is that it doesn't make you feel anything. It can be full of all the screams, blastbeats and tremelos you can imagine, and while being a fun bit of entertainment, never really conspires to become anything more. On the other hand, you get artists like Xasthur who try so desperately to capture that fragile black metal essence that was once so alive in the early 90s, but ultimately end up sounding like mediocre slightly boring fuzz.

All this waffling does serve a purpose however, because presented within this album is something quite astounding; some of the most convincingly evil-sounding black metal I've ever heard, which also to some extent progressive as well (I know, what?!). Everything about this release reeks of macabre, grandiose evil, but doesn't resort to any over-the-top "RAAAARGH LOOK AT US WE'RE REALLY FUCKING DARK AND UNHOLY" black metal clich├ęs.

The guitar tone is the most beautifully dark thing ever, it literally drips with venom, it has somewhat of a "buzzsaw" quality yet is nowhere near the mess of static and fuzz that certain bands (ahem... Black Funeral) resort to, it is very much clear and discernable,and has a kind of droning metallic quality which drapes the whole album in this archaic cloak of antiquity, like its the soundtrack to something happening in the 19th century. To understand what I mean listen to the riff which begins at around 1:00 in "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles". It sounds deathly, chilling, old, and full of intent and atmosphere, but saying this still gets me no closer to conveying the sheer engulfing mood contained within. It seems a bit of a cop-out to say its indescribable, but it is something so delicate and fragile, that pure essence of evil which attracted me to black metal.

Saying that however, that is not the entirity of the attractions of this album. What makes this so incredibly sublime is the way von Meilenwald has not only captured that sound so well and with seemingly so little effort, but has taken that base and built upon it, creating something truly special. Long winding song structures, with all sorts of awesome stuff like choirs and medieval horns, make this rewarding, engrossing, good music with a killer atmosphere, rather than just atmosphere for atmosphere's sake and nothing really musically engaging as Xasthur creates. I think it is rare that any popular music transcends being mere entertainment and becomes something more, but some moments on this disc seems to perfect to be labelled as such. I hesitate to call it art, (especially coming from the ludicrous genre of black metal) but some songs on here are absouletly perfect, and I would be unwilling to change them in any way. Namely: "Euphoria when the Bombs Fell", and "The Clockhand's Groaning Circles", both of these songs contain the aforementioned dark and archaic atmosphere in bucketloads. The former is a ferocious whirlwind of intense drumming, accompanying this evil as shit riff. The lyrics deal with what I can assume to be someone being bombed during a war. However, the riff of this song always makes me think of the buzzing of the engines of the bomber plane, and there is a fantastic break in the song with a choir singing, and this always brings to mind images of people in church about to be bombed, completely unaware of their fate, nameless, faceless casualities of a forgotten conflict. The effect is nothing short of absolutely profound.
The latter song is the second longest on the album, clocking in at around 10 minutes, and is a slower beast with some doom influences, and while I shan't go into the same detail, I shall say that it i undoubtedly a beast of epic proportions.

Although I am highlighting these two songs, every 'proper' song on here (that is to say, not filler) is equally splendid and contributes to this albums immense relistenability. However, on the subject of the filler, its pretty crap, especially when its being contrasted against the sheer intense atmospheric mastery of the main attraction (hence the 99). It doesn't really detract a whole lot though, because the skip button was invented for a reason.

And there you have it. The fact that someone as shockingly lazy as me could be bothered to write a review of it, one this long at that, should be enough to convince you its definitely worth checking out, even if your interest in black metal is minimal. This is easily one of the best black metal albums of the decade, and effortlessly stakes its place side by side with the elite of the second wave.
And another thing; this album is a grower. Its fully quality comes out in relistens where you can really get inside the music rather than just living for the moment as with more extreme black metal stylings.

Overall: Perfect production, amazing atmosphere, some really original and unexpected twists which always work, and some crap filler which is easily skipped.