(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).