Author: Gay For Gary Oldman
Artist: Dark Funeral
Album: Where Shadows Forever Reign (2016)
Genre: Black Metal
Label: Century Media Records
Dark Funeral have inhabited a somewhat curious position in black metal. Formed in the midst of the second wave in neighboring Sweden, the band survived the turn of the century, when many of the Norwegian torchbearers were either seeking alternative paths or floundering altogether. Dark Funeral, along with countrymen Marduk, took up cleaner production and more conventional, recognizable song structures and acted as a lightning rod for new black metal listeners. Whilst they never delved into the outright commercial properties of Dimmu Borgir, the band nonetheless wrought a fair bit of distain in more experienced circles. They never used keyboards or clean vocals, and their guitar leads were rarely melodic enough to be called “mainstream”. Nothing musical about the band could be called anything less than black metal; nonetheless, Dark Funeral had become far more accessible than many believe black metal has any right to be.
First off, I’ve got to say, having an album cover by renowned artist Necrolord is one hell of a way to initially endear me to your music. Having done the art for the band’s debut The Secrets of the Black Arts, could this hint a return to the band’s roots? Does that even mean anything? Dark Funeral haven’t deviated stylistically that much.
Seven years it’s been since their last album, Angelus Exuro pro Eternus. Long-serving and instantly-familiar vocalist Magus Caligula has been replaced by capable newcomer Heljarmadr, leaving guitarist Ahriman the only founding member by a large margin. And honestly, Dark Funeral pick up exactly where they left off. Take The Eternal Eclipse for example, a song I consider to be the standout track on the album. Ripping open with a drum pummeling and a blistering rhythm, Heljarmadr’s vocals are right up at the front of the mix, gargling a crisp, rhythmic set of vocals, leading up to the lead-guitar dominated chorus section, with drums, vocals and guitars all performing in unison to invoke a powerful unity.
This is the band’s strength, in being able to create recognizable and dare I say even melodic sections without letting up on any of the intensity a black metal band should bring. To know what I mean, listen to opening track Unchain My Soul. If the music was reeled back a lot, and the rasps were replaced by clean vocals, I swear that the vocal rhythms of the verses could be mistaken for the faster-sections of Bruce Dickinson’s performance on Iron Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name. Contrast this with most black metal, in which the vocals usually lack any discernible rhythm, structure or rhyming. Dark Funeral bring all three, and when it works, such as the infectious “as the fires grow over the barricade” of As One We Shall Conquer, it’s a performance that’s hard to resist.
However, when it doesn’t work, all it does is feel cheap and tacky. Listening to almost any section of Temple of Ahriman, Beast Above Man or As I Ascend, and what worked in other tracks now becomes an almost childish attempt to recreate the intensity found in black metal by concocting clever rhymes and catchy tunes to make the tracks more recognizable, and therefore accessible to repeat listeners. Particularly guilty is the low death growls in the chorus of Nail Them To The Cross, sounding like Glen Benton in Deicide’s most uninspired era.
Another gripe I have with the band is that they hedge their bets. As mentioned above, they use crisp, clear production and accessible vocal lines and rhymes, and yet seem hesitant to really experiment melodically with any range, for fear of alienating what black metal credibility they still have due to the intensity of their music. The opening to Nail Them To The Cross probably the best of many examples. Following the same type of guitar picking and tempo as Mayhem’s Freezing Moon, one would expect that so much could be done to establish a sense of coldness and atmosphere. Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus from Gorgoroth’s Instinctus Bestialis is an example of allowing rich melody into the opening of a song to create atmosphere. Instead, Dark Funeral have opted for probably the most dull and flatly uninspired guitar riff that they could possibly have written. It simply feels like the intro was just something to get out of the way.
To their credit, the band end on a spectacular note, with Where Shadows Forever Reign being a stellar and powerful track, with outstanding guitars and chord structures. Overall, I can’t say that this is a bad album, but too much of it is simply too average and uninspired to warrant a higher score, particularly after a seven year break. If you’re already a fan of the band’s last few releases, I doubt this will disappoint, though I personally don’t think any tracks here are as strong as King Antichrist, Attera Totus Sanctus or Stigmata. Still. That album art.
- Gay for Gary Oldman