9/19/2008 - Review by: Etiam
When listening to 'Vobiscum Satanas', let us recall that it was released during the same year span as 'Destroyer...', 'Blizzard Beasts', 'Dauği Baldrs', and 'Total Death'. In other words, a serious down year for the major players in Scandinavian black metal. It seems that, after crashing onto the scene in the early 90's, many black metal bands stumbled in the spotlight trying to find their groove again. Some broke the the modus operandi of their early years--such as Darkthrone or fringe player Enslaved--with mixed success. Others, such as Dark Funeral, entrenched themselves further in their original formula and carried on almost as if their first album and its success had never happened.
On the one hand, this focus on their material is commendable, particularly considering all the backlash and bad karma the band has endured in the decade since 'Vobiscum Satanas' was released. On the other, however, it makes for monotonous listening. One almost wishes that the band had chosen the other path, and rather than ignoring their travails had embraced them for the sake of creative inspiration. 'Vobiscum Satanas' is only the band's second album, thus making complaints of stagnation a little unfair, but they are difficult to suppress in light of the band's subsequent efforts. The sophomore album is so often the 'make or break' effort that presages, or at least strongly suggests, a band's creative depth and breadth. Had Dark Funeral aimed to broaden their horizons here, rather than issuing their most mundane effort to date, who can say how much further their experimentation would have led them?
Alas, this is not the case, and Dark Funeral instead plod their way through these eight tracks with much aggression but far less inspiration. Song structures rarely stray from the simple riff patterns Lord Ahriman has trademarked over the years: predominantly in the phrygian mode, they arc upwards from the root in tremolo form, waver around the 5th or octave for two bars, then offer a complementary second half that loops back into itself for a nearly endless repeat. Caligula's vocals aren't especially high in the mix (nor is his basswork, for that matter), and not having great projection in his upper register, he eventually slides into the background, an issue that is compounded by his limited variation in delivery.
When taken individually, these tracks can be absolutely fierce examples of Swedish black metal; less sickly or grimy than their Norwegian counterparts, they rather aim for an epic sense of ceremony and depraved invocation. Standout tracks include 'Ineffable King of Darkness', one of the few in the band's discography that features Caligula's potent lower register and pushes the band's typically frenetic pace to greater extremes. Unfortunately, following seven songs nearly as fast and nearly as incensed, this song is but a minor climax to a self-defeating album.
Note: The re-issue from Regain presents a nice booklet and a handful of live tracks from a '98 festival show, as well as a remastering for the LP proper to give it the expansive, modern quality of 'Attera...'.
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