Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Deathspell Omega - Infernal Battles (2000)

Deathspell Omega was formed by two members of Hirilorn, following the demise of that band. Rather than carry on the more epic and melodic sound of their previous project, the opted for a more straight-forward, raw approach. Their first full-length, Infernal Battles, was released in 2000 on Northern Heritage Records. The peculiar thing about this album is that it would have been better suited to have been released as an E.P. There are only four new songs, here, as the other four were taken straight from the Disciples of the Ultimate Void demo. The problem isn't that they re-used the material, but that there's such a disparity between the quality of the two halves. It makes it incredibly obvious that they are taken from different sessions. Also, there is speculation that former Hirilorn drummer, Yohann, performed the drums on the demo tracks. However, the new songs featured on Infernal Battles sound very much like a drum machine is being used, despite Shaxul being credited as the drummer.

The album begins with "The Victory of Impunity", which wastes no time going right for the throat. Immediately, one can get a sense of the trademark melodies of Deathspell Omega, always creating a great deal of tension. The urgent tone to the vocals increases this feeling. Shaxul sounds quite similar to Hat, from Gorgoroth, utilizing a raspy and high-pitched style. Musically, the early work of this band is often compared to old Darkthrone. They are usually credited as being among the best of the legions of clone bands, but it would seem that this negates the strong influence of early Gorgoroth, as one can really hear a lot of this in the melodic structure of the song. This is also noticed in the alternating thrash and tremolo riffs. That being said, the band was already forging a sound of their own, mixed in with these influences. It's just that, by this point, they hadn't fully realized their own style, so it was more like a work in progress.

"Drink the Devil's Blood" continues the fast-paced Black Metal assault that was present in the previous song. The opening melody is one of those that sounds familiar from the first time you hear it. Perhaps it is taken from elsewhere, but I can't put my finger on it. In this song, one can hear hints of what would come, but it's not quite realized here. The song would later be re-recorded, with completely different lyrics.

The next song is "Extinction of the Weak", which starts out like the previous songs. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the tremolo riffing is replaced by some open-arpeggio work. This gives the song more atmosphere and helps to differentiate it from the others. It also has a somewhat darker feeling. After a few minutes, its speeds up, with Shaxul sounding completely possessed. His screams almost remind one of his countrymate, Meyhna'ch. Lyrically, the whole album is drenched in themes of Satanism and blasphemy, yet it would appear that they turned their back on their earlier lyrics, as the reissue of this album has most of the lyrics censored, as if they were so inferior to the more Orthodox style of the band's later period.

"Sacrilegious Terror" is another fast-paced song, though the drumming is a bit more relaxed. As with the rest of the songs, it's dominated by fast tremolo picked riffs that flow through your brain, frozen and mournful. The song is rather dynamic, as there are a number of tempo changes throughout. Another brilliant melody is unleashed around the 3:00 mark, giving the feeling that the band really wanted to re-create "Maaneskyggens Slave", because that it what this sounds like. That's not a bad thing at all, and I find no fault in the lack of originality on the part of Hasjarl (presumably, the one responsible for most of the songwriting). After all, it is their first album.

The demo tracks begin with "Raping Human Dignity". As some have commented, the track does open with some sort of feedback that sounds like a ringing telephone. Whatever the case may be, the song is as solid as the previous four. The only difference is the drastic drop in sound quality. However, despite this, it is by no means the most terrible production one can expect to hear in the realm of Black Metal. To anyone that says that the guitar riffs aren't discernible, all I can say is that you must not be listening. As for the music, the main riff is a tremolo melody that sounds like something from an old Darkthrone album. It is true that far too many bands have attempted to capture the same cold, minimalist feeling that Darkthrone achieved on Under A Funeral Moon and Transilvanian Hunger, but Deathspell Omega (even at this stage) stand out as being one of the better bands to follow this style. And, really, why should no one try to pick up from where they left off, since they abandoned that sound many years ago? It should be left to only the more skilled and musically adept bands, but it's not entirely impossible that someone could come close to doing it justice. It's just that most shitty bands mistake the low-fi sound of those albums to equate lack of skill (which is incredibly erroneous) and think that they can hide their own weaknesses by emulating that style, not realizing that it actually did take great skill in songwriting and that it's not something to be spewed out by every wannabe with a guitar. But, I digress.

The next song is "The Ancient Presence Revealed", which begins with a thrash riff, strangely. Actually, it's completely a rip-off of Darkthrone's "Blasphemer", from the Total Death album. This brings up a good point, as Deathspell Omega seemed to favour a guitar style that was quite similar to the sound on this album, back in their early days. What I mean is that you can hear the similarities in the very clean sound they used, at times. It's kind of odd, as not too many bands would look to a weak Darkthrone album for inspiration, but they certainly found something of worth, here. At any rate, the song transitions from the thrash riffs to the high-tension tremolo riffs that they were known for. Few guitarists manage to convey such a sense of urgency in their melodies, but Hasjarl does a hell of a job with this. As the track progresses, the temp changes a few more times, including a slower section that doesn't quite reach its atmospheric potential.

"Knowledge of the Ultimate Void" maintains the sense of tension and dread, though the song then goes more into the realm of Hellhammer influences, possibly filtered through Darkthrone. Late in the song, the pace slows down and the atmosphere becomes quite hellish, for a few moments. Unfortunately, they don't fully capitalize on this.

The album concludes with "Death's Reign (Human Futility)". While the production may be similar to the level of quality found on some of the Mütiilation demos, there are some nice epic melodies mixed in, though these do not dominate the song. Still, it maintains an identity separate from the others, though not quite as satisfying.

Ultimately, Infernal Battles is something better intended for those who appreciate old Darkthrone and Gorgoroth. It's not as good as the album that follows it, but it certainly isn't worthless as some pathetic losers seem to think it is. This was but the first step for this band, so it's naturally that they were struggling to find their own identity, while also trying to keep the black flame burning. No, there's nothing incredibly unique going on here, but they already displayed quite a bit of promise and would go on to prove themselves superior to many of the other bands so influenced by the Norwegian scene.