Svartidaudi | ‘Flesh Cathedral’
When I was younger, I vividly remember how a friend and I would laugh at letters from a couple of fellow tape traders in thrall to the early Black Metal bands.
Specifically,we’d chuckle when they’d boast in that way we all did as pretentious teens about how the likes of the early Norse hordes “spoke to them” and how other normal metal fans didn’t get the “transcendent” and “unearthly” qualities of this new (and at that stage) exciting new development in the underground.
20 years later, however, listening to Svartidaudi, I think I finally understand what they were getting at.
Arduous and tormented is the journey Svartidaudi seem to have embarked on with this album – both in terms of the length of time it seems to have taken to create it, and in terms of the actual listening experience provided by the finished article.
The very existence of Svartidaudi is a knife in the heart of nowadays “instant” black metal culture. I don’t have lyrics or artwork or any other supplementary features to go in here, just the music alone. Nor do I need them right now, because this music is engrossing enough on its own.
The introductory “Sterile Seeds” commits fully to a diabolical atmosphere with its opening of howling winds and chimes, before the opening sinister riffs arrive along to kick start the descent proper. The vocals immediately stick out. They’re fucking horrifying basically – a frosty, gargled roar.
It’s a short, midpaced opening track but it sets a sombre tone that continues throughout, and after a couple of minutes it leads into the more rapid fire assault of “The Perpetual Nothing”. This second track will seem at first like something you’ve heard before – take the NoEvDia catalogue as a starting reference for the dischordant and abstract riffing present here, as well as the speed, but there’s a real coldness here that sets them apart.
That and the recording quality though clear has a more organic “band in a room” feel that some of that stuff lacks. The slower sections are the band at their finest, as here when a simple picked riff is complemented by some shifting bass. Plus, y’know, it’s fucking eerie sounding.
‘Flesh Cathedral’, the title track, builds on this gloomy, unsettling feeling. The balance of the haunting and the malicious is perfect, as they move serpentine fashion through tempos and dark moods over the duration of the song. You realise listening to this how well this band have suceeded in melding the traditions of black metal with their own personality here.
Svartidaudi take their time and let these songs unravel slowly. Everything here is imbued with a sense of foreboding and angst in a way that occasionally gives the feeling the band themselves are proceeding with caution. These are finely crafted songs. They are trancelike, bleak songs.None moreso then the closing epic that is “Psychoactive Sacraments”.
There’s a sense listening to the album that it’s all building to something -increasing slowly in intensity until “Psychoactive Sacraments” presents its final chapter. About ten minutes in to this final song that climax comes in the most unexpected way, where the vocalist’s rasping voice cracks into what seems like a desperate cry of exhaustion, or perhaps submission.
The closing musical section of the song feels like an act of surrender to something – but at the same time the feeling of dread never dissipates. It’s startling stuff.
You want a first hand example of the “transcendence” in black metal you hear so much about from the likes of Hunter Hunt Hendrix or whatever media professor has dedicated a college module to discussing a brief period in Norwegian cultural history? Here it is. Right here.
Consume in one sitting – with the lights off and let yourself struggle to breathe through the clouds of aural sulphur that grow and billow with each constituent step of the way here.
Highly, highly recommended.
5 / 5 :: Jamie Grimes 11/9/2012