Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sargeist - Let the Devil In (2010)

Five years have passed since the last Sargeist full-length. Shatraug has been extremely busy during this time, releasing a large amount of material with his primary band, Horna. As for Sargeist, only a couple split albums and a single E.P. have stood as proof that the project had not been laid to rest. The wait has been, at times, quite excruciating. However, November 2010 marked the release of their third record, Let the Devil In, on Moribund Records.

Of all the high-quality bands to come out of the Finnish Black Metal scene, Sargeist has always been my favourite. From the first time that I heard Satanic Black Devotion, I recognized something special about this particular group. Shatraug's trademark songwriting style was present, but somehow this deviated from the material that he had written for Horna. For those that have not heard this band, you are missing out on something truly powerful. Working within the established boundaries of the Second Wave Black Metal sound, Sargeist manages to implement these well-known tactics and still create something that is unique and entirely identifiable as their own. And therein lies the magic of this band; they remain true to the roots of this musical style, paying homage to those that paved the way, and yet there are also elements that build upon this foundation and take the listener deeper into oblivion.

Let the Devil In picks right up where Disciple of the Heinous Path left off, in many ways. In fact, though the first two albums have quite a bit of sentimental value for me, this one may be superior in that the various tempos and riffs are arranged seamlessly, with no awkward changes or strange riffs to bridge from one theme to another. All of the same ingredients can be found, such as the mournful tremolo melodies, the mid-paced and somber riffs and even a few galloping sections that add even more to the old school feeling. Where there were a couple of oddly arranged parts on the previous record, which hindered the overall atmosphere, this is wholly absent from Let the Devil In. Everything fits together very well, and in no way distracts from the atmosphere being created. The feelings conveyed are those of darkness and a somber sense of despondency that permeates the majority of the riffs. Many of the guitar melodies stick with you after the first listen, but to fully appreciate the album it is best to sit in total solitude and focus on the sounds in utter darkness or only the light of a few candles. This is not mere background noise, it requires some effort on the part of the listener, and you will find that deeper concentration will allow you to fall deeper into the dark realm conjured up by this album.

The production is not far off from their previous releases. The rough edges of Disciple of the Heinous Path are slightly smoothed, and that is in the most minimal sense as I can possibly indicate. It is comparable to Horna's Musta Kaipuu; raw enough to suit the music while retaining enough clarity for the melodies to be heard. The sound isn't exactly bitter cold; more like the feeling of slight warmth from the funeral torches as one wanders through the frozen gravelands. The main focus seems to be exactly where it needs to be, and that is on the guitar riffs. The drums are just loud enough to do their job in keeping the tempo, but not so much that they would distract from the melodies. In other words, this is Black Metal done right. There is no double-bass dominating the album and carrying the music as in many modern releases. As for Hoath Torog's vocals, he gives an excellent performance and really suits the vibe of the music. In addition, his accent adds to the exotic feeling of the music, as one can notice when reading the lyric sheet and following along with the music.

Let the Devil In contains absolutely no filler. There are no intros or outros, no instrumental interludes, no songs that are overly repetitive for the sake of reaching a certain length. The material is remarkably strong, and this is evident from the early moments of "Empire of Suffering" as the mournful tremolo riffs envelope you in a whirlwind of hate and misery. The half-paced sections really do well to stick to your brain, immediately. This carries on with each successive song. It also becomes clear that the structure of the album was given a lot of attention, with each song placed precisely where it needed to be. Unlike most modern Black Metal bands that simply copy what came before with no original input, whatsoever, and just cram a bunch of noise onto the album, Sargeist have worked to carefully and methodically craft something beyond what mere impostors could ever hope to achieve.

There is almost a sense of beauty in the utter darkness that is evoked here. Listening to the main riff of "Burning Voice of Adoration", for example, almost seems to lull you into a trance and take you somewhere beyond the realm of the mundane, to a otherworldly dimension where things seem to take on more significance. Songs like "Nocturnal Revelation" truly embody an incredibly gloomy and menacing sentiment that few bands are capable of calling forth. "As Darkness Tears the World Apart" displays an epic and majestic sensibility in the guitar melodies, transcending the pedestrian approach of their contemporaries. The overall atmosphere is undeniably dark and projects a deep hatred for life and light. Also, as can be expected, there is a powerful disdain for the religious sheep and the Great Lie that is professed by believers of the Judeo-Christian mythology. This is rather typical for Black Metal, but you definitely get the sense that it is very genuine in Sargeist's case, rather than a product of style.

"I invert the cross of hope
And dwell in black despair
Every moment of every day
I'm blasphemy incarnate"

It is a crime that this band is not more well-known as they have continued to raise the bar for what modern Black Metal releases should be striving to accomplish; strict adherence to the traditions of the style and keeping the old school spirit alive, while building upon that foundation to produce something admirable and worthwhile. In the last year or two, several Black Metal bands have released impressive albums, including Burzum, Gorgoroth and Immortal. As good as those have been, none of them manage to capture the pure darkness and genuine feeling of Sargeist's latest opus. In a word, Let the Devil In is brilliant and it is highly recommended that you seek this out and listen to it immediately. Fans of their previous efforts will not be disappointed and those new to the band will be instantly converted.