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The Savior of Black Metal

Although this is primarily a review of Deathspell Omega’s Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum, it can also serve as a brief intro for those unfamiliar with the band. The descriptions of the preceding works can also serve as reference points leading to a better understanding of Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum.

Deathspell Omega’s first full-length, Infernal Battles, was released in 2000, and consists of primal, minimally-produced, Darkthrone worshiping, black metal. Splits with Finnish warlords Clandestine Blaze, the bewildering one-man German black metal project Moonblood, and the French Les Légions Noires stalwarts Mutiilation followed. The equally raw and bleak Inquisitors of Satan, released in 2002, ended Deathspell Omega’s first phase.

After what had gone before, nobody expected what the band would wreak with its 2004 release, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice, the first of a trilogy concerning divine will, Man’s inherent perdition, and the inevitability of his eternal judgment. That release displayed a band that had leapt so far ahead of its previous incarnation as to be almost unrecognizable. Lengthy song constructions are filled with dense, macabre melodic musings tangled with joy-crushing powerhouse black metal while lyrically invoking the mysteries of God, Satan, and Man’s tragic and unwitting role in the eternal battle between righteousness and evil.

This concept was alluded to on three releases that followed: From the Entrails to the Dirt (2005) a three-record split with French hordes Antaeus, Mutiilation, and Malicious Secrets, further consolidated Deathspell Omega’s reputation as a black metal band that is challenging the genre’s status quo. In 2005 the band released the EP Kénôse, a collection of songs so disturbing in their dark beauty that larger numbers in the metal community finally began to take serious notice.

Also in 2005, Northern Heritage released Crushing the Holy Trinity, a very limited three-record set (1,000 copies) containing the efforts of six bands, each of which got half a side. Side one, titled “Father,” featured a nearly 23-minute opus titled “Diabolus Absconditus.” With this composition, Deathspell Omega left every other black metal band in the stylistic dirt and freed itself from the constraints of a genre that had grown largely moribund. “Diabolus Absconditus” was a revelation! Deranged riffing, a five-minute acoustic interlude that sounded like hellish jazz, impossible time changes and bizarre, angular chording revealed that this Franco-Finnish ensemble was single-handedly inventing an elite of black metal trail-blazers, creating music that nobody had thought to formulate before.

Now hear Deathspell Omega’s opus, Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (loosely translated from the Latin, it means “By divine law, go ye cursed into eternal fire”). Simply put, it is phenomenal; quite possibly the greatest metal release I’ve encountered in a decade. It’s beyond good. It’s revolutionary. Lyrically, the band has transcended juvenile Satanic flirtation and embarked upon a fervent and erudite exploration of universal theology. It will take multiple listenings (and perhaps a few reference excursions to the Bible and Dante’s Inferno) to fully comprehend the message DsO is attempting to impart. In a nutshell, for those impatient souls, the message is this: Hopelessness.

Like the last four offerings from DsO, this release begins quietly, with a song titled “Obombration,” featuring an ethereal and nebulous choir chanting over soft neoclassical musings. It’s not long, however, until chaos erupts with DsO’s trademark uber-heavy arpeggios lumbering about like a Satanic Pink Floyd. Mid-tempo drums anchored by a subdued double-bass rumble mark time while a sample of something that sounds like a foghorn permeates the gloomy atmosphere. This fades out after a few minutes, replaced by more mournful chanting, which eventually succumbs to silence.

The second track, “The Shrine of Mad Laughter,” erupts suddenly with a furious blast-beat attack, harkening back to DsO’s past releases, before segueing into a convoluted maze of bent, angular riffing and drumming that’s nearly impossible to comprehend, much less tap one’s foot to. DsO’s drummer, whoever he or she is, is a monster and gets better with each release. The percussion is metal, jazz, psychedelia, anti-music, and sheer power, all rolled into one pummeling amalgam of rhythmic insanity. The song ends with more quietude, a formula repeated throughout the album. This is a very jarring set of tunes. One is constantly jerked from the ambient interludes to the rampant black metal salvos; it is unnerving and emotionally draining.

Track three, “The Bread of Bitterness,” contains psychotic layers of guitar, dozens of them, augmented with something that sounds like a calliope, creating what, at times, sounds like circus music from Hell. There is an innovative mix on this cut – a male choir follows Aspa’s delirious vocals, hovering just beneath the surface, a very rewarding and slightly frightening listening experience with headphones.

The fourth track, “The Repellent Scars of Abandon and Election,” features an insane call and response wherein a very evil sounding voice whispers each line, after which Aspa screams it in a demented sermonizing vocal style. After a minute, it switches and the whispers echo Aspa’s lines. Then it all starts to overlap until voices are bombarding the listener from all directions in an anarchy of screams, whispers, howls, and moans. Very intense and harrowing! About two-thirds of the way through the song this madness suddenly abates and a slightly de-tuned piano offers a discordant melody line for a few bars before the madness begins anew.

Orchestral samples and layered choirs permeate the next song, “A Chore for the Lost.” More screaming, more musical bellicosity, more superb ensemble playing, more incredible black metal.

Finally, it ends with a short reprise of the first song.

In its execution, Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum is jubilant and celebratory. It’s crushing and evil. It’s suffocating and dense. There are so many musical ideas thrown about that it’s difficult to capture them all in one, or even several, listening sessions. Make no mistake – this is definitely black metal. The music contains the requisite tremolo riffing, hyper-kinetic blast-beast drumming, and scorched earth vocals that linger between a death metal growl and a traditional black metal screech. But there is so much more. The drummer flirts with jazz, psychedelia, thrash, doom, and a half dozen other styles, and masters them all. Mikko Aspa has one of the most distinct voices in metal. It’s bombastic, scary, demonic, enunciated, and is instantly recognizable after just one listen. Hasjarl’s guitar playing is also first rate. He peppers the tunes with shimmering, serpentine leads and light-speed riffing. His style is, at times, a black metal version of Joy Division – hovering beneath the melody, setting up the kill, waiting for the chance to attack. His inventiveness and technique are astonishing.

I must reiterate that Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum is the finest, most impressive black metal release I’ve ever heard, and the best metal album in any genre I’ve acquired in the past decade. Deathspell Omega is quietly revolutionizing the Metal universe and I anticipate the third installment of the trilogy like I’ve anticipated nothing else in this style of music. I suggest you order this album immediately and see what metal can be. Deathspell Omega is the savior of black metal.

SLACK!

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More later …