1349 | ‘Demonoir’
First of all, the band photo. The members, in full corpsepaint, relax with a glass of cabernet in a candle-lit parlour. One of them is on the old joanna, showing the others that new riff he came up with, while Ravn reads Bible verses aloud in order to feed his bandmates’ scorn.
You might expect that any query would be met with a Gaahlesque pause followed by a reverent “Satan”. It lets us know that, despite having developed a taste for sonic experimentation, 1349 are loathe to leave behind “traditional” black metal trappings.
Last year’s ‘Revelations of the Black Flame’ caused a stir by departing from the usual pure BM assault to explore dark ambience and less emphasis on blistering tempos. It wasn’t uniformly satisfying and felt like a transitional work, but was more interesting and promising than a ‘Hellfire’ rehash. So, does ‘Demonoir’ fulfill that promise?
Yes and no.
The seven instrumental ‘Tunnels of Set’ provide a bit of colour and breathing space between the six main tracks, and are decent enough, but the album is at its most impressive when this type of material is more integrated with the traditional brutality.
This is the case on the dramatic ‘Atomic Chapel’, which rushes the listener through a maze of unpredictable twists and turns, with piano and deep vocal chants adding a welcome spaciousness to the sound.
‘The Devil of the Deserts’ and ‘Pandemonium War Bells’ are similarly dynamic and multi-faceted. In comparison, ‘When I Was Flesh’ and ‘Psalm 7.77′ speed past in a blur of blastbeats without making much of an impression, though the latter at least includes some arresting guitar noise. Frost’s drumming is certainly a key part of the band’s armoury, but for my money, he’s far more interesting when not merely trying to break the land speed record.
The title track is a real low-tempo slow burner based on a long riff cycle. Frost still gets a chance to impress here, and it’s always good to hear the bass doing more than shadowing the guitars. The song ends on a riff that seems more than coincidentally reminiscent of ‘The Freezing Moon’.
‘Demonoir’ is a more complete album than its predecessor, and will satisfy those who worried that the band had turned their back on their roots. It’s certainly a complex record that tends to avoid the obvious, but doesn’t aim for the iconoclasm of a ‘Monotheist’ or an ‘Ordo Ad Chao’, and is, for better or worse, more of a compromise than a reinvention.
4 / 5 – Paul Condon ::: 29/06/10