Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Clandestine Blaze - Night of the Unholy Flames (2000)

Night of the Unholy Flames is the sophomore effort from Finland's Clandestine Blaze, the solo project of Mikko Aspa. This album was the first full-length to be released on his own label, Northern Heritage Records, right before Deathspell Omega's Infernal Battles. In many ways, this should be considered the true debut from Clandestine Blaze, as Fire Burns In Our Hearts was more of a demo than a real album. This release takes the basic concept of what Mikko was attempting on that release and finally sees it through.

An ominous intro precedes the first song, setting the tone for what is to come. "Chambers" erupts from the calm, racing forward at a fast pace and slaughtering every living thing that it comes upon. The guitar tone is cold and somewhat sharp, but not hard on the ears. This hearkens back to Darkthrone's Transilvanian Hunger, with the minimalist songwriting and execution. The song features mournful tremolo riffs with blasting drums underneath, keeping a decent pace but never going too far. There are moments where the guitar is left to stand on its own, which really helps to add a sense of gloom and melancholy to the atmosphere. While owing quite a bit to his Norwegian idols, Mikko uses the same formula but his melodies have a distinct sound and vibe of their own. What he has done is to build upon what came before, rather than simply imitating it. The lyrics are a bit controversial, discussing the extermination of Jews and Christians. One has to wonder why it is alright to criticize one group and to wish them dead, yet it becomes wrong to apply the same idea to the originators of the Judeo-Christian mythology that has plagued the world for so many centuries.

"Cross of Black Steel" is not the most impressive track, as it is one of the earliest examples of Clandestine Blaze attempting to utilize riffs inspired by Celtic Frost and these songs always seem to fall flat. This mid-paced tune is not all that bad, but it is rather uninteresting and seems to be a waste when compared to the other songs. Nonetheless, it does serve well to break up the monotony of the album, shifting gears for a few minutes, though he could have worked harder to make the song more dynamic.

The title track returns to the faster tempo from before, utilizing a similar overall structure and approach. This song features a very hypnotic main riff, within the framework of raw minimalism that Clandestine Blaze excels at. Mikko's vocals are deeper than those of most other Black Metal vocalists, but it works well as yet another element to separate this band from the countless others that employ a similar style. The song is very repetitive, but never boring. The guitar melodies are haunting and will likely remain with you long after the album has concluded.

"Invisible Death" continues the fast-paced and minimalist approach, while standing out from the others and maintaining its own identity. The atmosphere takes on a more bleak and dreary feeling, as a mournful guitar melody emerges, from time to time. There are no instances where one gets even a brief glimmer of hope. This drains your spirit and leaves you nearly empty. Everything is very subtle, and yet highly effective. The production helps, as it is raw and yet with a clear focus on the guitars. This shows vast improvement over the first release.

The less-than-stellar Celtic Frost vibe returns on "There's Nothing". It is a shame that Mikko did not try to work this influence into the songs in a different manner, rather than writing bland songs that stuck to the basic formula and fail to keep the listener's attention. As with the previous mid-paced song, it at least works to break things up and give you a chance to rest.

"Aikakausi on Lyhyt" shifts back to the Transilvanian Hunger style, though with a little less success than some of the previous songs. This is not a bad track; however, it does not quite stand up to the earlier ones. It is the only song on here with Finnish lyrics, something that Clandestine Blaze did not often do.

The final song is "Future Lies in Hands of the Strong", which is a slower song with influences from Burzum. It is more of an outro, really, as there is no definite structure and the only vocals seem to be distant screams and gargled noises that are difficult to decipher. After a few minutes, the same ominous sound from the intro returns to end things.

All in all, Night of the Unholy Flames is a very good album and reall shows a lot of improvement from Fire Burns In Our Hearts. This is the moment where Clandestine Blaze really developed its own sound and rose to the top of the Finnish underground. This shows a very good re-interpretation of the Second Wave Black Metal sound, as defined by the Norwegians in the early-'90s. Mikko takes a good amount of inspiration, and upholds the traditions, yet adds his own vision in order to create something unique. If you are a fan of raw, minimalist Black Metal, seek this out.