(Andy Synn prepare this review of the new album by Svartidauði.)
As a fan of this weird and wonderful sub-genre we call “Extreme Metal”, you’d have to have been living under a rock for the past several years not to be aware of how impressive and influential (not to mention incestuous) the rapidly developing Icelandic Black Metal scene has become over the last several years.
But even though the scene is, in terms of wider international exposure at least, still relatively young, such is the prolific nature of the various bands and artists involved that a recognisable hierarchy of heretics has already begun to take shape.
And right at the top of the totem pole, in my opinion at least, are Svartidauði.
While it’s been a long six years since the band released their stunning debut album, Flesh Cathedral (which, I’d like to point out, is just as virulent and as visceral now as it was on the day it was released), these masked purveyors of metallic mayhem have been far from idle during this period, producing several EPs and tearing down stages worldwide, in a continued effort to hone their craft into an even more lethal form, all of which has culminated in the six scorching tracks which make up their brand new record, Revelations of the Red Sword.
Now, it’s worth pointing out immediately that, although the spirit and soul of this album is cut from the same pitch-black cloth, Revelations… is a different beast to …Cathedral, and while it is still recognisable as a product of the same keen creative minds it also represents a new chapter in the band’s ever-evolving sound and story.
For one thing all but one of the songs here are shorter than the shortest track on its predecessor, and even the record’s longest number – utterly spellbinding closer “Aureum Lux” – doesn’t come anywhere near the epic lengths of numbers like “Sterile Seeds” or “”Psychoactive Sacraments”.
And yet the shorter average length of the tracks this time around doesn’t mean the band have short-changed us in any respect, it simply indicates that they’ve refined their sound to the point where they can now deliver the same level of brimstone fury and conjure the same asphyxiating atmosphere in half the time.
For the most part Revelations… is also a bleaker, more menacingly melodic, affair than the group’s debut, although it doesn’t seem to have sacrificed an ounce of power or potency in achieving this (just check out the apocalyptic assault of “The Howling Cynocephali” for instant, and undeniable, proof of this assertion), with tracks like blinding opener “Sol Ascending” and its dizzyingly dissonant companion “Burning Worlds of Excrement” benefitting from a bigger, bolder production style that serves to highlight both the innate intensity and impressive intricacy of the band’s song-writing while also ensuring that the complex drums, cathartic vocals, and coldly technical guitars are all given equal space to shine.
In fact, when all is said and done, it’s this sense of balance, this bristling tension between order and chaos that underpins songs like the mesmerising “Wolves of a Red Sun” and the grim grandeur of “Reveries of Conflagration”, which makes this album such a truly superlative piece of work, one capable of evoking multiple moods and sensations even as it does its very best to peel the flesh from your bones.
So if, like me, you’ve already begun compiling your list of the year’s best Black Metal albums – or even a list of best albums in general – then you may want to take a step back and re-evaluate things before going any further, as Revelations of the Red Sword is the sort of game-changing record that demands (and deserves) to be given its due place right in the upper echelons of this year’s murderous metallic crop.