Tuesday, March 16, 2010


If you choose to view Mayhem as the locus solus of black metal, then you recognize two divergent paths its practitioners have taken. There is the "Freezing Moon" path, wherein melody is not discouraged but rather absorbed into the composition to create works of great spaced out alien tension, dripping with melancholic elements but still raw at its core; then there is the "Chaninsaw Gutsfuck"/"Carnage" path, wherein every melodic element is foregone in favor of complete chromatic annihilation and the only vestiges of musicality are found in the juxtaposition of strange notes and chords, sometimes resulting in a neoclassical feel.
Urgehal have always opted for the latter approach, turning in album after album of brutal, unrelenting black metal as epic as it is uncompromising. They have never been a groundbreaking band per se but they have always been consistent, occupying a space similar to Slayer's in my mindset. You know what you're going to get when you buy a new Slayer album and that's fine. It's the same with Urgehal-they've been shitting this out for so long that it can't help but be made of quality elements and if you're looking for sharp, angular headbanging black metal then you've come to the right place. "Ikonoklast" does nothing to advance Urgehal's musical vision-this is the same pungent Norwegian beast that we've grown accustomed to throughout their years of existence-but it does nothing to taint it either. From the opening track the punishment is doled out in oppressive yet digestible handfuls. It's driving and merciless, yes, but as much as there could be a formula for black metal, Urgehal delivers it with gusto and conviction. I've heard many other bands milk this sound with considerably less favorable, or interesting, results. With enough knowledge of the guitar it's easy to create obscure, dissonant soundscapes and long, wayward passages under the guise of "progression" but to make those same soundscapes furious and engaging is another matter entirely. Here is where Urgehal excel. These guys live and breathe black metal. As stupid as the photos may be, with every member decked out in metal and spikes and sharpened points, there's never been a doubt in my mind that Urgehal believe in the most antisocial elements that black metal stands for-the disgust with religion, the endorsement of hard drugs, the fetishization of violence and the general feeling of intolerance for all of modern culture. Urgehal believe in Nargaroth's proclamation that "black metal is krieg." In accordance with such a distanced, antagonistic stance "Ikonoklast" is appropriately war-like, erupting with bile-fueled vocals, crust dusted blastbeats and shredding, razorblade guitars. The atmosphere of intensity never lets up, even on the album's lengthier back end, where the tracks begin to top seven minutes a piece. There are no clean guitars, no singing and absolutely no moments of reprieve. It's as pure as black metal can be without travelling back to 1991. The most marked change in Urgehal's approach is the introduction of guitar solos to many of the songs-obviously they're aware of the risk such egotistical explorations can have on a genre as notoriously narrow-minded as black metal but Urgehal pull it off with finesse and style, laying down some serious Slayer-esque destroyers that confuse and enchant in equal measure.
While a good mile short of "groundbreaking" Urgehal have turned in a furious, competent and entirely apt demonstration of pure Norwegian black metal that should leave no fan of this style dissatisfied.

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