Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The first demo by black metal "supergroup" (and yes, it sounds horrible to me, too) Den Saakaldte, comprised of members of some of the underground's most elite hordes, including Gorgoroth, Shining, Diabolicum, Ondskapt, Koldbrann, Nidingr, Slavia, Dodheimsgard and In the Woods. With such an esteemed pedigree and so many harsh, uncompromising records credited to the members' other projects you'd think Den Saakaldte would have a difficult time even beginning to deliver on the obvious expectations for this endeavour, but i'm pleased to say that this record meets all of those expectations and trumps them, crafting a dense, frightening slab of black metal with a truly obscure vibe and an oppressive feeling of depression and anger haunting the whole affair. The title translates to "Beer, Darkness and Depression"-a very telling turn of phrase when you consider that although black metal has a reputation as a very dark and melancholy music, most of the people involved in it enjoy getting fucked up and can even view their music from tongue-in-cheek sort of perspective. Already Den Saakaldte play on that in their title and the sounds contained on this demo further amplify that intelligent, distanced yet involved stance. There are six tracks here, three of which are actual songs spanning 8-12 minutes each, 3 of which are shorter pieces composed for keyboards, field recordings and computers and serve to advance the claustrophobic and terrified feeling evoked by the record's name. The three "ambient" (for lack of a better descriptor) pieces are extremely industrialized and almost comical in their imagery, creating pictures of a disturbed circus of the mind where all the performers are limping drunkenly to some withered "oom-pah pah" style waltz. It's the sound of an insane asylum brought to vivid life via sound only, made all the more impressive by the fact that one member is responsible for these interludes, the absurdly monikered (but no less grim looking) Honey Lucius. The tray inlay card identifies this album as "sick music for sick individuals" and it's largely due to Lucius's contributions that such a boast is proven accurate. The interludes reference both David Lynch's soundtrack work and the playful terror of Mr. Bungle in equal measure. They're totally demented in the best possible way. As for the actual black metal tracks-wow. These are complex, dissonant but utterly engaging songs, made all the more entrancing by the repetition of key riffs and a masterful display of layering by guitarist and lone songwriter Sykelig. His time spent in Gorgoroth studying under Infernus was not in vain; each of these riffs are black metal by the books, razor sharp and melodically intriguing while still being dizzyingly precise and meticulously composed. Some tracks bloat with three or four overlapping guitar parts, not a one of which are wasted or indulgent. They all serve the composition and add to the melodic weight of the pieces, creating harmony out of conflicting intervals and in some instances a sense of true beauty and feelings of sorrow and regret. This is far from being suicidal black metal but the emptiness asserts itself easily and insinuatingly, lending a significant psychological heft to a work already steeped in imbalance. Two tracks walk a disorienting path even further, with Lucius adding simulated horn bleats (saxophones, primarily) that sound like film noir jazz skronk woozing drunkenly across their assigned passages. It's a tremendous atmospheric exercise. But even with all that to recommend "Ol, Morke og Depresjon" it's the vocals that are the true star and really take this record into the great black metal beyond. Masterfully performed by the seemingly omnipresent Niklas Kvarforth (Shining, Livsnekad, etc) the vox occupy every possible violent emotional terraform, from screaming black metal outburts to low death metal style growling to gorgeously paganesque clean hymnal singing to grossly tense, threatening croaks and whispers. Earlier i made reference to Mr. Bungle and it wasn't just in passing; Kvarforth is a musical magician of some accomplishment and i don't think it's unfair or inaccurate to refer to him as the Mike Patton of the black metal world. In both aesthetic and delivery as well as timbre he bears striking resemblance to the avant-garde vocal master and his display of that influence never sounds contrived or disingenuous. It's another instance of a really talented individual needing to meet the demands his creativity places upon his life and art, and while there are few (if any) vocalists in black metal who can match Kvarforth for pure misery and pain injected into every utterance there are even less who can put forth this much variety, texture and emotion in a vocal performance. It's a mindblowing testament.
I haven't been this impressed with a black metal record in some time. Given the people responsible i shouldn't have been surprised but here i sit all the same, marvelling at how fucking awesome this. I'm going to go have a drink and listen to it again.

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