(Andy Synn reviews the new album by Norway’s 1349.)
Something that I’m more than willing to admit to is the fact that, when writing a review for NCS, I’ll take time to peruse other sites and see how the opinions I’ve formed stack up against those of other writers, and how well (or not) they fit with the common consensus.
I don’t see much of a problem with it personally, although I know several other writers who like to review in a vacuum, without the potential confounding influence of other people’s opinions. Often it means I stumble upon interesting factoids that I might otherwise have missed, which add context to my own work, or interesting interpretations that make me revisit what I’ve written in a different light.
Of course, occasionally you cross paths with the sort of completely biased review written by an oblivious fanboy, or an ignorantly negative attack written by someone with an obvious agenda, but mostly I find the opinions of other writers (particularly the ones whose opinions I really respect, regardless of whether I share them) to be a great help to me in my own work.
Why am I saying all this at the start of what’s meant to be a review of the (awesome) new album by 1349?
Well, you see… Angry Metal Guy basically already published my review. Seriously. Go check it out (here). Although I don’t agree with quite everything Dr. A.N. Grier says about it (personally I really like Revelations…, and don’t see the Watain comparisons so much), I do agree with pretty much 99% of her review, particularly this part:
“More than ever, this album suggests to all listeners that it is futile to assume you know what 1349 will do next.”
Which precisely sums up the band’s modus operandi ever since they released their critically-acclaimed blasterpiece Hellfire.
Let’s face it, after achieving that level of pure blackened savagery… where exactly were the band supposed to go next? It’s the classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. Any follow-up that stuck too closely to the same sound would have, inevitably, been unfairly compared to its predecessor. And most likely found wanting.
So, instead… as predictably unpredictable as ever… the band took the left hand path.
You see, Massive Cauldron of Chaos absolutely reinforces the idea that the post-Hellfire period of 1349’s career is them choosing, quite consciously, to experiment and explore their sound.
If Revelations of the Black Flame was the band’s ambient/progressive experiment, and Demonoir their almost Death Metal-esque concept album, then this… this is most definitely the Thrash album.
Touches of Bathory, a heavy dose of early Slayer, a bit of Punk (say hello to the sub-2 minute barrage of “Golem”), and even a hint of mid-period Satyricon (thanks again to Dr. Grier for basically providing all those references for me in advance), all inform the band’s signature sound this time round, with a host of succulent, stabbing, slicing thrash riffs — along with some incredibly lithe, slithering bass-lines — cutting through the choking gloom and scorched-earth drum-work with impressive clarity.
Indeed, if Massive Cauldron of Chaos can be summed up in a simple way, then it’s an album with a much stronger focus on tight, hooky song-writing, and incisive, scalpel-sharp riffing, than ever before. I gather that this (relative, initially at least) simplicity has put some people off the album… but it shouldn’t. It may not be as torrential as Hellfire or as stomping as Demonoir, but it’s just as lethally effective.
(FYI – if you go back to the last couple of tracks on Demonoir you can actually, in hindsight, see clear indications of where the band were going. Just something worth mentioning in passing.)
Certain songs, such as “Cauldron” and “Exorcism”, call back to Beyond The Apocalypse in a lot of ways, only with more of a seething, thrashy undercurrent, while others — like “Slaves” and “Postmortem” — would sit perfectly on a bill with Goatwhore or Skeletonwitch… if they weren’t so damnably dark and just that little bit more extreme in outlook and approach.
Indeed all these tracks, both those mentioned already and others such as the torturous “Mengele’s” and the ravenous “Chained”, are similarly simultaneously both vintage 1349 at their heart and yet ever so slightly different – clearer, sharper, colder. Simpler, even. And just that little bit more focussed and precise.
The band save the best track til last however, in the form of the calculated cacophony and chaotically catchy hooks of “Godslayer”, with its visceral, vibrant mix of tumultuous blasting, irresistibly infectious riffs, and sinister atmospheric interludes that do have a certain Enslaved-esque feel to them… although certainly more evil than their fellow Norsemen have ever been… (thanks again to Dr. Grier for spotting that one!).
Ravn’s ominous, croaking vocals and utterly venomous snarls are in their absolute prime here, particularly when screaming the song’s brutally infectious chorus, while the clever use of some almost Maiden-y lead melodies is an unexpected, unpredictable delight. It’s definitely one of the best, most impressively written, songs that the band have ever produced.
And really, that’s what sums the album up. It’s an album focussed on one simple ideal – producing the best songs possible, disregarding all external expectations and implications in the process. These are songs that make an instant impact, but which also produce increasing rewards every time you go back to them.
I’m calling it now. In a few years this one will be considered right up there with the best the band have ever produced.
I don’t know what will come next, but you can be sure of two things: it’ll definitely be different, but it will most certainly still be 1349.
Massive Cauldron of Chaos is out now on Season of Mist and Indie Recordings and can be ordered here (North America) or here (Europe). The official video for “Slaves” is below, as is the full-album stream from Bandcamp (where its available for download).
Just so Ms. Madam X at AMG doesn’t get too much flack for the few disagreements you have with that review, I was the one that wrote it. She just posted it for me 🙂
Credit where credit is due: I’ve revised Andy’s review to substitute your name for Madame X’s. 🙂
No worries. Just trying to direct hate mail to the appropriate person. Great review Andy. I appreciate the kind words.
You’re welcome Dr.
1349 as proud bearers of the black flame cult, the ones who relies everything on the impact in forty minutes and eight tracks gives to us an usual example of violent music also able to create atmospheres without the aid of keyboards and other particular solutions. Here we speak the language of the old Black Metal style, perfectly “modernized” to play the current while retaining the right mix of old school sound, yes, the result is more thrash but still sounds grim and filth and more important, sounds as a coherent Black Metal band. The drumming of Frost needs no introduction; is angry, hyper-fast, natural, human in the sound but inhumane in the rhythms. The singer, Ravn, not even for a moment betrays the tone filtered particularly heinous while Archaon the guitar is almost perfect in its long stroke to the plectrum, often, a viaticum of sudden accelerations. Cold and so good that it should not be missed!
I feel like I should tell you something that’s been true for a long time: All of us here really enjoy reading your comments! Keep them coming! 🙂
Thank you, you make me feel welcome and this is a good thing, anytime when I read your opinions about the music you guys thinks are worth to sharing I realize that here at “No Clean Singing” the music that we like is treated well and seriously so the time in which we express an opinion becomes a pleasant thing to do, one last thing, I was thinking about the awesome new albums by Blut aus Nord and Mare Cognitum and speaking about Atmospheric Black Metal I was thinking about the new one (not only) by “Darkspace” that is a real journey in consciousness with a fascinating minimalistic sound, an experience that only their music knows how to tell, I recommend to you guys because this band is astounding, “see you” in the comment sections, oh, almost forgot, Sylosis will public a new song on 10/10/2014 and thank you again for all the reviews and the music you share!
I generally try to harvest as much research info as possible without reading reviews to profoundly simply because I don’t want to find elements in other reviews that inspire me TOO much. Such as formulations or thoughts that I find to be so nail on the head that I’d find myself in a dilemma between putting it “as it is” or leaving out a simple yet intuitive explanation. But I totally agree on your “stumble upon interesting factoids that I might otherwise have missed”.
I’m on the other side of the fence about checking other reviews. I avoid them until I’ve finished my own, not so much because I’m afraid I’ll be influenced in what I think, but because I’m afraid I’ll become depressed that someone else has said all that needs to be said and done it better. I’d rather be blissfully ignorant.
That’s also one of the feelings that simmers in my cauldron. I love to read other reviews after I’ve posted mine, though even if that as well can lead to the annoying cases of “why didn’t I mention that”.
Great review!!!!! really enjoyed reading it!!!! I listen to the album once and it was just ok for me. Need to listen a few times more
I’ve actually seen a couple of different takes on this one, so I’m not going to insist that you love it just yet… I’m nice like that…
In all seriousness though, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a “divisive” album, I can definitely see WHY it might not catch some people, but will catch on with others.
Great album. Saw them live last month, one of the first times they performed “Slaves” live: I was blown away. “Godslayer” is another favourite.
Saw them live last night, they gave a great show.
It was a foggy sunday evening, not a lot of people showed up, so the crowd was quite thin.
Nevertheless they gave a great show, and made it a great experience for the people who did show up.
They only had Archeon on guitar, who did an excellent job, but 1349 live sounds live even better with 2 guitars in my opinion.
Also, great review, enjoyed it.