I first became acquainted with 1349 at their landmark Hellfire album which marked them as leaders of the post-90’s Norwegian black metal scene. It seems with their subsequent release, Revelations of the Black Flame, they lost a lot of support from their “true” supporters for their favoring more ambient passages and relying more on atmospherics than blistering black metal. Luckily, 1349‘s latest offering attempts to strike a balance between the two extremes in the genre and Demonoir looks like a very solid album, treading the waters between dark ambient and black metal to great effect.
On Demonoir the much maligned ambient passages are back, punctuating the black metal songs throughout. However, after giving the record a number of listens, I feel both “halves” of the album should be examined separately, as different entities, and then evaluated as a whole. The “Tunnel of Set” ambient pieces are irregularly numbered, starting (in Roman Numerals) at eleven and working up to seventeen. It is only once these seven tracks are rearranged in order that they actually make sense – and when they do you are confronted with some of the nastiest, most evil-sounding dark ambient to grace a record in a long time. The “Tunnel of Set” as a single piece is almost nauseating; creating an eerie, guitar tinged atmosphere that literally makes your skin crawl. Listening to each piece reminded me a lot of the soundtracks to horror movies, and even more of the popular survival horror series, Silent Hill. Frequencies rise and sag; indescribable sounds creep through the static and noise and silence only accentuates feelings of dread! Something is very wrong in these ambient pieces and as a result they stick with you, crawling into the back of your mind, ready to be played during the most visceral of nightmares and cultivating impending doom between each song.
“Atomic Chapel” is the first track after a brief “Tunnel of Set” introduction. After some fast paced riffing to kick the song off, it settles into a rather pedestrian pace, favoring spoken oration over other forms of vocals. Ravn’s vocals are the usual throaty rasp, and the two vocal styles switch back and forth until we are greeted with what sounds like a madman bashing on a piano – albeit musically. The piano feels very out of place in the guitar-driven sound, but it ushers in an increase in pace that reaches back, very noticably, to Hellfire. This sound continues through “When I Was Flesh” and “Pandemonium War Bells”, though the latter feels horirbly stretched out, approaching boring.
“Psalm 7:77” is where 1349 really show their colours. High-speed, thrash-inspired riffs coupled with hyper-aggressive drums create a maelstrom of really evil sounding metal. The guest solo from Norwegian guitar master, Ronnie leTekrÃ¶, creates a great atmosphere over the razor sharp riffing that compliments the thrash sound perfectly (sounding very Kirk Hammet-ish in places). My only gripe would be with the vocals, which have a rather annoying distortion filter over them. This distortion comes and goes between songs and I found it a serious downer to an otherwise excellent song.
The aforementioned piano returns on “The Devil of the Desert” and adds to the energetic atmosphere by sending it delightfully off-kilter while remaining majestic and Big! In the wake of Dimmu Borgir and company, piano in black metal feels horribly overdone, but 1349‘s use of the instrument, however brief, is refreshingly unorthodox and it contributes to the feeling of unease created by the ambient tracks. Finally, the title track, before a lengthy ambient outro, is quite slow by 1349‘s standard, using whispered vocals and ambient effects. It feels solid though and is a fitting end to the album.
Considering the band’s recent career, I would say that Demonoir is 1349‘s watershed album. They will possibly alienate a lot of fans due to the ambient passages, but could win more due to the balance of dark and darker music gracing the album. The presence of the “Tunnel of Set” on the album should not put more hardline fans off: there is nearly forty minutes of quality black metal on the album and I guarantee that it will not disappoint. Demonoir strikes a healthy balance between black metal atmospherics and the more aggressive, evil riffing that attracts fans to the genre in the first place. This is a solid release from a band that has not fallen into irrelevance in the wake of the Norwegian black metal scene of the 90’s and that clearly has a firm idea of where they are going!