(We present Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the Norwegian black meal band 1349, which will be released on October 18th by Season of Mist.)
It’s been well-documented, on several occasions, that my favourite 1349 album is 2010’s Demonoir.
As you can imagine then, I was particularly excited when it was revealed that the band’s new album (released next Friday) was a pseudo-sequel (or is it a prequel?) to that hallowed record.
The only question is, could it be as good?
The short answer to this question is… no.
The longer answer is… no, but not for lack of trying. In fact The Infernal Pathway contains some of the band’s best material yet, proving that the years have yet to dull the edge of their blackened blade.
Truth be told, the album doesn’t get off to the most auspicious start, as opener “Abyssos Antithesis” delivers an impressive array of rip-roaring Black/Thrash riffs and spitfire blasts, but fails to arrange them into a shape that holds up under close scrutiny.
It’s not terrible by any means, it’s just oddly jumbled, structurally speaking, especially when compared to the songs which follow.
“Through Eyes of Stone”, for example, is sinuous and streamlined in both form and function, featuring some seriously sharp and savage riffs, as well as some grimly grandiose melodic embellishments, all driven by Frost’s endlessly ferocious drum work.
And while “Enter Cold Void Dreaming” isn’t quite on the same level (despite some impressively hefty grooves), “Towers Upon Towers” is an absolute monster of a tune, with the band switching effortlessly between full-force blasting, hook-heavy riffosity, and moody, menacing melody, while also showcasing Ravn’s vicious, snarling vocals in all their gruesome glory.
“Deeper Still” is all fire and brimstone fury, with not an ounce of fat or wasted space to spare, and will worm its way into your subconscious whether you like it or not, after which the six-minute “Striding the Chasm” finds 1349 unexpectedly channelling classic, Master of Puppets-era Metallica to craft one of the most intelligent and intense tracks of their career.
With all this belligerent, balls-to-the-wall Black Metal bombast on display you might be wondering what exactly it is that’s stopping me from hailing The Infernal Pathway as the band’s best album yet?
Ultimately it comes down to the fact that, when taken as a simple collection of songs, …Pathway is definitely more killer than filler (sadly, multiple listens to pre-release single “Dødskamp” have revealed it to be more of the latter than the former), but as an album it doesn’t quite add up to more than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts.
In particular, the ambient “Tunnel of Set” interludes don’t tie this album together as seamlessly as they did on Demonoir, and you’re often left simply waiting impatiently for the next song to start, rather than (as I’m sure was the intent) luxuriating in the momentary calm amidst the chaos.
Thankfully, as I said above, …Pathway has more than enough meat and muscle to power through these slight failings, and saves one of its best (and most involving) tracks for last, in the shape of the doom-laden “Stand Tall In Fire”, which sees the band channelling some seriously old school influences (think Celtic Frost and Dio-era Sabbath) to end things on a surprisingly restrained, but irresistibly infectious, note.
So while The Infernal Pathway may not be the band’s crowning achievement, it does prove that, almost two decades on from the release of their very first EP, 1349 are still willing to take risks, and push the envelope, without losing the core of who they are.