Monday, October 19, 2009

Necrophobic - Hrimthursum (2006)

Hrimthursum is the fifth full-length album from Sweden's Necrophobic, featuring cover art by Tyrant, of Nifelheim. Four years had passed since the release of Bloodhymns, and some had speculated that the band had split up. However, in May 2006, they returned with what was, possibly, their most ambitious release. Tobias once described it as a work of art; creating this album was like making a painting. The epic compositions required that the band hire a professional singer, Sandra Camenish, who assisted in the choir sections that were utilized, here. In the end, they not only expanded their own boundaries, but those of their fans as well.

It actually took some time for me to warm up to this album, initially. I heard one or two of the songs that they put online, and was a little put off and surprised as I'd been hoping for something more along the lines of The Nocturnal Silence or Darkside. However, I gave it another chance after seeing the video for "Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness". It was on this cold winter day that something just clicked, and I obtained the album a short time later. Though it's good to be selective, I had been asking far too much of the band; that they should regress and repeat themselves. Once I opened my mind a bit, I was able to truly appreciate this record for what it is: an epic work of Swedish Black/Death Metal.

The dark atmosphere starts with "The Slaughter of Baby Jesus". This intro, slowly, builds up, as the ritual is about to begin. You heart the crying of an infant, in the midst of chanting and an ominous drum beat. The guitars come in, joined by the choir, creating a monumental feeling. This does well to set the tone for the album. It ends with a simple melody that carries over into the first proper song.

"Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness" features the dark and nocturnal sound that one would expect from Necrophobic, though this is rather fast-paced and straight-forward. It is cold and hateful, slicing through your soul and leaving you reeling. The production is clearer and less raw than on Bloodhymns, actually sounding closer to the sound from The Third Antichrist. The riffs are incredibly solid and the lead solo not only fits the song well, but it truly adds to the feeling being conveyed.

The blade that cuts me loose
In a cloudburst I leave
Into darkness so cold"

The next song is "I Strike With Wrath", which begins with an ominous melody, leading into a mid-paced riff that serves well to add to the epic nature of the composition. It seems almost as if Johan and Sebastian have kept David Parland's songwriting in mind, as they do a decent job of trying to use elements of the early albums. Once the song gets going, it resumes a similar speed to that of the previous song. The tremolo riffs are cold and quite memorable and the vocals are vicious in their approach. Near the middle, the song slows down and a brilliant solo is unleashed, adding to the haunting effect of the song. This is accentuated, as the track ends with a somber piano piece.

"Age of Chaos" begins with a slow-paced sound, building on the epic atmosphere with the return of the background choir. There is a melancholic feeling that permeates this song, as it tells of the destruction of life with the coming of the giants. Around the time the album was released, I read that the whole album was to be centered on this concept, but that there was some difficulty in stretching it out so they dropped the idea. Mid-way through, you can hear the sounds of a woman sobbing, which only further adds to the sorrowful feeling of the song. Still, there is something quite sinister about it, as the giants are then hailed and named off, one by one. There is an interesting tale here, and the music is quite memorable.

"We all are falling, we turn into dust
We are cast into oblivion, into the shadows of the past"

This is followed by "Bloodshed Eyes", which opens with a furious pace. The tempo alternates a bit, as slower parts with cold tremolo riffs weave throughout, making for a dynamic listen. After a minute or so, there's a guitar riff that is accompanied by more clean vocals, making for a really memorable section of the song. This is well-constructed, delivering the maximum impact and haunting the mind of the listener. Immediately after, the venomous vocals and lethal pace return to drive the stake into your black heart.

"Blood is everywhere, the pouring source of life"

"The Crossing" is the longest track on here, nearing six and a half minutes. An eerie guitar riff fades in from the darkness, getting louder and louder. It then slowly envelopes your mind as the misanthropic screams and funeral bells overtake your being. The song shifts, then, to something fairly straigh-forward and intense. One can even hear some old Slayer influences, which have always been with the band. After a frantic solo, the pace begins to wind down a bit and Tobias is joined by the choir, in the background, as he proclaims that, "Death is everywhere". Not to overuse the word, but this is bleeding with an epic atmosphere that is only increased by the incredible lead solo that follows. This is one of the best ones on the album, as it possesses a lot of feeling and suits the song very well. As the funeral bells return, there is a feeling of finality as it all fades to nothingness.

"Listen to the haunting choirs of the dead
They sing their hymns in horror and ghastly dread
They chant in reverence for all bewildered souls
They gather, they call us, they keep us forever"

"Eternal Winter" starts out with an intense pace, with the guitar melodies slowly building in the whirlwind of winter and chaos. Similar to "Retribution - Storm of the Light's Bane", by Dissection, this song manages to incorporate some thrash riffs in a fluid manner that works well within the context of the overall piece. Later in the song, the tempo drops and another great solo is to be found. As with many parts of this album, the refrain is very memorable, especially thanks to the cold melodies that it features.

"I am winter, I am death
Frozen still, but not dead"

This is followed by "Death Immaculate", a song that starts out pretty fast but then goes into more of a mid-paced riff after the blitzkrieg opening. The middle section is atmospheric and utilizes some acoustic or clean guitar, with Tobias screaming in almost a ritualistic manner. A lengthy lead solo followes this, lasting for quite some time.

"Sitra Ahra" is one of the more memorable songs, starting out with an acoustic piece that leads into a massively epic riff, bleeding forth a somber tone. The feeling is sorrowful and dark, as this mid-paced track takes you deeper into the shadowy depths. The riffs are haunting and the backing choir adds to this. As with the rest of the album, the lead solo is very well done and it is soon replaced by some brief acoustic bit. This song builds a sense of tension, as if you are being led down to the underworld, forever to escape the realm of life and light. The end is near, and you are soon to be free.

"Longing for solitude, to sleep with the dreaming dead
In the icecold heart of the totenreich we shall live our lives again"

The next song is "Serpents (Beneath the Forest of the Dead)". It consists of varying tempos, going from fast to mid-paced and including some nice cold riffs, as well as yet another haunting lead solo. It doesn't quite stand up to the feeling of the previous song, but perhaps a small break was needed.

"Black Hate" begins with an odd-sounding riff, though I can't quite place the feeling I get from this. There's a brief moment with only a tremolo riff and nothing else, reminiscent of early Mayhem. One would expect this to be a fairly straight-forward track, but the middle section possesses a slow feeling of doom, and yet another solo that will remain in your brain for some time. In a way, this album is a lot to take in, as there's so many good and memorable things, there is the chance that you'll overdose. At any rate, this song does a good job of leading up to the final one.

It all comes to an end with the title track. This song fades in with a feeling, somewhat, simlilar to "Among the Storms", from Bloodhymns. There sounds to be some distant piano accompanying the guitar melodies, for the first few seconds. It may be appropriate, considering the subject matter, to say that this is a giant of a song. It truly comes off as bigger-than-life, in a sense. This is what the whole album has been building up to, and it possesses some apocalyptic feeling. The guitar melodies, backing choir and the overall pacing come together to creat a great atmosphere. The acoustic piece, in the middle, leads into a spoken word part that then gives way to a solo. The sound is crisp and sharp, like a knife slicing through your flesh on a bitter cold winter day. As you watch your blood stain the snow with its crimson hue, you can feel the end coming soon.

"The wind blows colder now
And the frozen old starts to move
The wolves gather on the hills
And the raven is holding its prey"

Hrimthursum is unique among the other albums in Necrophobic's discography. It shows the band pushing the limits of their sound and creating something that is, at times, quite majestic and atmospheric. In a sense, it had to be done as it added new dimensions to their sound and opened the gates for future relases to have more room to breathe, in a sense. Die-hard fans of this band are recommended to pick this up.