Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dødsengel - Visionary

This is a nasty album in so many ways. Nasty in a totally prime sense. The shear amount of material here to digest as a reviewer - especially myself since I have a short attention span for a lot of stuff - is difficult to swallow. With a running time of an hour and twelve tracks, including an intro, interlude and closing piece, it's a large angry beast to ride. And here I am trying my best to size it up. Ultimately, this Norwegian band has done well here. Visionary is an album that anyone into black metal will enjoy. The flow is right there emphasizing lot of really enjoyable moments spanning the entire length and the relentless approach here is admirable by even casual listeners to the genre. Elitists can enjoy rougher edges and an experimentation within a strict traditional framework which Dødsengel champion across a couple of the tracks. I'm unfamiliar with the material which follows this album but I can assume that they've taken some of the curiosity expressed here and translated it into some a bit more outright original.

The band is two members: Kark, who handles all the vocals - and there are a handful - the guitars and bass. The drums are performed by Malach Adonai. It goes without saying that there is a strong focus on expertly performed black metal but what I like is that at moments such the solo at the end of opening track Word of Uncreation, the band seems to just allow natural noises and feedback to happen. It makes the album sound much more personal and truly black metal. The  multiple releases of the album - originally in 2009, on wax in 2010 and again in 2011 - are warranted and deserved since this is something that can sit in a CD player for a while without losing effect. It is surely one of the better black metal albums I've heard that could be at both considered modern and mainstream and yet still appeal to underground circles.

So after a tone-setting minimalist piano intro, the immediacy of opening track "Word of Uncreation" is a hint that Dødsengel is not going to allow the listener time to breath. It's fast, like a lot of the rest of the songs, memorable, also like a lot of the other songs, and like other tracks rummages through riffs and rhythms like a starving homeless man in a five star restaurant's dumpster. But with a track like "Void" These Norwegians prove they are capable of doing more than taking a proven modern black metal style and recycling it. What Dødsengel does is what a band like Watain hasn't - they've exercised their ability to experiment. Void sounds like one of those cardboard guitars you made as a kid with rubber bands and a tissue box... but distorted. Vocally, Kark engages in just about every style of vocals you can imagine in black metal - he screams, screeches, whispers, grunts, belts, moans and decrees. His performance is a lesson that on a long album, a variety of vocal styles goes a long way to prevent boredom and monotony from setting in.

"Djevelens Lys" and "Warfare By Witchcraft" pull stylistically from Immortal for most of the durations in the rhythmic department but are laced with a slightly anthemic sound, like the melodies on Beyond The Wandering Moon - anthemic and proud - but not as formal nor as glorious as Aeternus were able to explore on tracks like Sworn Revenge or Vind. Dødsengel also doesn't have the thickness of either band's guitar tone - there the band sounds more like Primordial's earlier efforts though with a heavily enunciated twang. 1349's Hellfire is a good reference point overall for Visionary but I wouldn't settle for such a simple and surface association. While the similarities could lead one to write Dødsengel off as a clone of any number of more generic bands, the fact is that they really aren't that simple to pigeonhole - they have enough of a personality to surpass that.

The second half of the album, after the Interlude, itself not really an interlude but more an intense ambient piece with ghostly vocals, piano and some other sounds, picks up right where the first half left off. "Raziel" habitually switches back and forth between riffs, almost sounding like the song is arguing with itself. "En Hyllest" is what most people would consider a filler track - it doesn't have it's own personality really - and aside from some high pitched screams and vocal moments is a forgettable five minutes. "Frelserens Ord" is the shortest of the tracks on the album at just over three and a half minutes. It also has one of the strangest endings of a black metal song ever - a chromatic riff that descends over and over with screams of different kinds over it. It's fascinating to say the least.

Glorious Salvation is a seven minute black metal exercise but doesn't do much for me. I get where Dødsengel wanted to go with the album - end with a monster track that paints a grandiose image by way of Enslaved style relentlessness. The main chord progression has a finality to it, and while the track builds from a slower starting point into a blasting and bombastic effort it also becomes flat somewhere in there. Just when you think the whole thing is going to end you can enjoy a four minute synth piece to end the album. Honestly the inclusion of the synth piece at the end sounds like an afterthought and I would have left it off. 

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