• Sammy O'Hagar


1349’s Hellfire was pretty damn close to a perfect black metal album: nothing but top notch frostbitten riffs played at grindcore speed with Ravn’s lunatic vocals over them and production grimy enough to evoke the necessary rawness but not obscure the music at its heart. At once precise and uncompromising, the album eschewed the genre’s weak points and simply tore the guts out of whomever cared to listen. Much like Anaal Nathrakh, Hellfire was an example that I pointed to when people dismissed black metal as a poor/embarrassing man’s death metal.

Of course, this may be the bulk of the weight in my big ol’ bag of fucking disappointment with the band’s follow up to Hellfire, Revelations of the Black Flame. Just when the band were appearing to be brutal enough to ascend black metal’s negative connotations, Black Flame finds them taking an unfortunately masturbatory turn into the realm of avant-garde black metal, at once trying to challenge the norms and boundaries of black metal while embracing its most ridiculous aspects.

I suppose I can appreciate the conceit of Revelations of the Black Flame (hence the extra half horn I‘m awarding it): a blackened oddball of an album designed to blow minds and make the worshippers at the altar of Hellfire (like yours truly) and Liberation uncomfortable, perhaps angry. But what sets out to be a journey to the outer reaches of black metal actually amounts to a bunch of guys in corpse paint in their grandparents’ back yard playing with flashlights after dark. I can appreciate ambient black metal, but Black Flame doesn’t go anywhere. It promises to several times – the tremolo picked buildup in “Invocation,” the jagged guitars of “Uncreation” – but quickly extinguishes itself in lieu of more grim exercises and pointless ambient noise. When it does finally remind you of who 1349 were, it’s with the by-the-numbers “Maggot Fetus… Teeth Like Thorns,” and making that Black Flame’s black metal focal point causes the album to collapse into a shapeless mess of (admittedly occasionally interesting) dark ambient textures and shards of what could have been decent songs. There’s nothing of value to grab on to on Revelations of the Black Flame, no matter how much 1349 seem to think there is. Even a charred mess of a Pink Floyd cover (“Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun”) can’t score them obscurity points.

But this is not to say that adherence to a set of rules passed down from a bunch of frosty Norwegians 20 years ago is the way to make a great black metal album in 2009: messing with its DNA is still one’s best chance at making an impact. And that’s why Funeral Mist’s Maranatha – despite the vehement protesting from truer-than-thou crowd that object to it being different from 2003’s Salvation – is so fucking flooring: though still wedded to black metal hallmarks, its dalliances and experimentations make it a delightful mindfuck that sounds like no other black metal album you’ve heard. Main-man/only-man Arioch doesn’t shy away from going places that make the listener uncomfortable, even if at the expense of their patience or the more feeble-hearted ones altogether. It’s brilliantly unflinching, and in a genre dedicated to formulaic construct, it’s a strong breeze’s worth of fresh air.

Maranatha is a cluster of warm, fluttering tremolo picked guitars, angry moaning and bellowing (nary a banshee rasp to be found!), strange choir samples and vocal manipulations, and alternating blast beats and dalliances into near post-rock-style micro-riffs and drone (the strangely and unexpectedly understated outro of “Jesus Saves!” being the best example). But this is by no means a subtly beautiful outing a la Wolves in the Throne Room or Drudkh: Funeral Mist is ugly as fuck, right down to its profoundly disturbing fundamentalist Christian samples (“Blessed Curse,” a fairly mediocre song that goes on a few minutes longer than it should, is launched into the fucking stratosphere by a sample of a fire-and-brimstone sermon played over the main riff). And each song is tinged with its own set of experiments, setting it completely apart from the one before it. Some of the directions Maranatha goes into are more puzzling than effective, and it’s hard to tell if, as a whole, Maranatha is a brilliant mess or just a mess. But it is certainly an entertaining and unique mess, and certainly worth a shot. While 1349 are apparently content with stumbling around in the dark in an attempt to experiment, Funeral Mist walk through it confidently, wearing whatever they may step in with pride.

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Revelations of the Black Flame
(1 ½ out of 5 horns)

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(4 out of 5 horns)


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