From the very beginning, Black Metal was drenched in Satanic imagery and lyrics. In the early days of Venom, Mercyful Fate and Bathory, demonic cover art and lyrical themes of joining forces with the dark lord were enough to brand a band as evil and more extreme than the rest. A decade later, many were resurrecting the old style but also wanting to put their own stamp on it. Not only did the newer bands take things to a new musical extreme, but they also needed to seem more serious about their Satanic ideology as well. Lyrically, things took on a somewhat more sincere tone and most of the musicians put forth a rather grim personality when being interviewed. Rather than using pyro for their live shows, bands like Mayhem used rotten pig heads as Dead cut himself on stage. Things had gotten much more serious than in the '80s. In the case of some in the Norwegian scene, this led to crimes such as murder and arson. One would think that this was about as far as it could all be taken. However, naturally, the next generation of bands had the same desire to be taken even more seriously and to distance themselves from those that preceded them. Yet this took a rather strange form.
This marked the birth of so-called 'Orthodox' Black Metal. Self-mutilation and the use of rotting animal parts had already been done, so this would no longer add all that much to the aura of a band. These latecomers knew that they had to do something else to set them apart, otherwise they may be seen as less serious than the likes of Mayhem or Burzum, not being dedicated enough to kill or to set fire to a church. Instead, they spent all of their free time studying the bible and other Judeo-Christian texts. That does not sound particularly evil, but it seems to be exactly what has happened. Most of these modern lyricists appear to hold degrees in theology, as they write about Christianity in such a detailed manner as to give off the impression that they are experts on the subject. This was quite a departure from writing about demons raping priests or being possessed by Satan. The lyrics of bands like Funeral Mist, Deathspell Omega and Katharsis read more like twisted bible verses, often written in the same style and using similar language. A lot of people find this rather off-putting, as it really makes the bands seem a little too devoted to the pursuit of knowledge regarding Judeo-Christian mythology. Younger fans seem to think that this makes a band more evil, to write these corrupted or twisted lyrics in a biblical style with such an emphasis on detail. For more old school listeners, it comes off as a silly gimmick in most cases.
Enter the Swedish band Funeral Mist. Their debut album, Salvation, was released in June 2003 and was the first album to come from Norma Evangelium Diaboli label. This is one of the earliest albums that I came across with this newer style and it made a rather lousy impression, immediately. Living in Sweden at the time, I often encountered people that would bring this band up when discussing newer Black Metal, and I eventually gave it a listen. No matter how much praise this record has heaped upon it, I still have a difficult time understanding what the appeal is. It may be that younger people were bored with the classic records and just wanted something new to connect with. As well, it was probably easier to relate to a band like this by spending time immersed in Jewish texts, rather than risking imprisonment and setting fire to churches. Regardless of what listeners found attractive about Salvation, it still possesses a multitude of flaws and shortcomings. It is rather ironic that Arioch went on to become the vocalist for Marduk, as his vocal style on this album showcases some of the same limitations as that of his predecessor, Legion. The vocals do not sound natural in the sense that he obviously overdubbed them to have an almost-continuous stream of lyrics that somewhat distracts from the music. Of course, that would be more of an issue if the music had any real value. In this case, it doesn't.
The songwriting is rather average, at best, and fails to impress in any way. Katharsis, Watain and Deathspell Omega were all making much more memorable music around the same time. Even Armagedda's second album seems more relevant when compared to Salvation. The guitar riffs, played mostly in the tremolo style, do possess somewhat of a dark feeling. Unfortunately, very few of the melodies really stand out or stick with you once the song is over. Many of the ideas are interchangeable and uninspired. There is also a conscious effort to avoid conventional song structures, from time to time, but with no real direction. The drumming does not help things, as Necromorbus is far too overactive. His playing is competent, but he just does more than is required by the riffs. Between Arioch rarely seeming to take a breath between lines and the incessant blasting of Necromorbus, this album becomes overly claustrophobic at various points. Again, it gives the feeling that Funeral Mist was simply trying create a slightly darker and more chaotic version of what Marduk had been doing for some years.
Salvation really comes off as rather gimmicky. Using samples is not particularly evil, though such things may help differentiate the same-sounding songs from one another. The lyrical approach also lacks any real sense of sincerity. One might argue that the lyrics of previous generations are less intelligent or childish by comparison, but I don't buy that showing off more knowledge of the Judeo-Christian nonsense makes a band more serious. The fact that bands like this have spawned an entire generation of fans that have wasted their time and money to better acquaint themselves with the details and mythology of the Great Lie is actually kind of humourous.
Another gimmick that certainly paid off for Arioch would have to be the vocal style. For starters, he utilizes a sound that is unlike most others. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to the individual listener, though I maintain that simply being different should not be the primary reason for unearned praise. Arioch's voice sounds very gargled and kind of sounds as if he is chewing his own face. There are also effects on his voice, at various times. One one hand, it may be refreshing for some people to hear someone doing something outside of the norm, but that does not mean that what he does here is actually good. It is not completely bad, but the amount of praise that this album gets, based on his vocals alone, just seems ridiculous. His approach does not hold a candle to the likes of Quorthon, Dead, Nocturno Culto or Varg Vikernes. Then again, perhaps he preferred to try something new as opposed to sticking within the confines of tradition.
The production is a problem, as it really places more focus on the irritating drumming performance. While the guitars have a bit of cold and raw sound, the drums sound almost over-produced at times and are way too clear and high in the mix. If these guys had spent less time with their noses in the bible, using samples and trying to come up with gimmicks to get noticed, they might have realized that drumming is supposed to be a background element in Black Metal.
Salvation is unworthy of the constant praise that it has received over the years. While it does have its moments, there is nothing here that has not been done better by countless other bands. This is truly the epitome of overrated and shows just how easily some people are impressed by a few tricks. A more 'serious' lyrical approach, some useless samples and a unique vocal performance were all the gimmicks needed to get Funeral Mist noticed and for Arioch to get a more steady gig as the vocalist for Marduk. If these guys had spent more time focusing on the music and condensing things down a bit, there is a chance that this record could have been much better at maybe half the length. This is painfully generic and modern and you would be better off avoiding this.