By: Owen Coggins
Dark Funeral | website | facebook | twitter |
Released on June 3, 2016 via Century Media Records
If you’ve read any of my previous black metal reviews, you’ve probably noticed me going on about preferring not to understand lyrics, whether through vocalists singing in languages I’m not familiar with, or due to totally indecipherable styles of growling or screeching- and preferably both at the same time, just to make sure. Lyrics printed in the sleeve? No thanks. Norwegian black metallers Gorgoroth have been known to actually take people to court for publishing their best guesses at what the lyrics are, and admitted in an interview that it’s simply because they consider the early ones to be embarrassingly bad. I’m totally in favour of the mystery. If you don’t know what they’re saying, it’s always possible to listen to the sound of the delivery and it be totally musically intense… if they’re actually decipherable, you might have to confront the fact that an otherwise amazing band is reciting cringe-worthy teen poetry at you. All subjective I know, some folks love to know the lyrics and for them it’s an important part of the appreciation, but I prefer any semantics shrouded in an occult mystery fog.
So imagine my surprise when I find myself really enjoying the (English) lyrics to Dark Funeral’s ‘As I Ascend,’ the fourth track on their latest album Where Shadows Forever Reign, and for me the undeniable centrepiece of the record. On paper, lines like ‘There was no light to guide me on my path’ or ‘I was submerged into the endless gaping void’ deal with perhaps fairly ordinary subject matter for black metal, but the lines are constructed and delivered with such a great rhythmic consistency and monotonous force that they really contribute to the making of this track as a massive anthemic force. It’s so good, from the guttural roar emitted over the guitar middle section, to the croaking spoken word horror, and back again and again to those lines where the roaring delivery matches perfectly with the wildly flailing guitars and endlessly staccato drums.
Elsewhere on the album, those English lyrics pop up occasionally, sometimes jarringly and at other times inspired in that honourable black metal tradition of the deadly-serious-and-not-at-all-ridiculous-honestly-I-promise squawking about creatures of light and darkness. Sometimes it’s a bit crap (‘I’ll rape your soul so bad no god will ever come near?’ Yeah, no.) but generally the vocal delivery at least is great, a sort of wide-mouthed graaargh that matches well with the guitars, melodically but more importantly, in the rhythmic delivery which drives the songs along.
The record kicks off with a great riff, repeatedly sounding a menacing chord, moving to others but never far from an unstoppable return to that central powerful noise. In a similar way to the track just discussed, here there’s a rhythmic vocal which is crucial in carrying the track onward, quite unusual actually for black metal (or at least the stuff I’m into) where the style of voice is more lost screeches and ancient mumbling hums, fading against the raging torrents of noise. There’s a great clatter of drums to match the lower voice style on track two, ‘As Once We Shall Conquer’, and again some great blasting rolls matching the mid-pace emplacement of the riff on the third, ‘Beast Above Man’.
‘Temple of Ahriman’, a tour of the dark ritual practices of frontman Lord Ahriman, is really catchy, suffering only from its placement right after the spectacular ‘As I Ascend’ with the fifth track’s power coming over as slightly more theatrical than the fourth track’s unstoppably intense power. After this, ‘The Eternal Eclipse’ is a good murky trip, and ‘To Carve Another Wound’ has a solid combination of blasting drums, jagged distortion and growl. Finally, ‘Nail Them to the Cross’ has a pleasing echo of Mayhem’s ‘Funeral Moon’ in its grim casket-creaking riff. As soon as this album closer rushes abruptly to a halt, you’ll probably be heading straight back to track four again to hear this record’s greatest example of a powerful rhythmic vocal-led black metal performance.