As an armchair linguist and general language nerd, I love listening to material in a language I don’t know. A sextet of Finnish Satanists and black metal veterans, Ajattara have a platter that fits that bill, and because of my total unfamiliarity with them, I approached the record with totally open ears. Lupaus, the band’s ninth full-length following a six-year hiatus, is a bit of a genre puzzle, as it’s hard for me to call it straight black metal. It reminds me most of modern era Rotting Christ or Abbath, despite sounding like neither, in that it blends melodic black metal roots with death metal and other elements to carve out a unique sound.
As mentioned, the lyrics are all in Finnish, so despite a very well-enunciated vocal performance from frontman Ruoja, the lyrical content is more than a little opaque. Fortunately, the band provide enough information to puzzle out its contents, language barrier or no. Described by the band themselves as a requiem for Satan, the whole record has a somewhat solemn thread running through its standard black metal sinisterity. I could be way off on this, but it leaves me with a distinct impression of actual religious Satanism, though a very different sort than that professed by the likes of Deathspell Omega. The sermon-like chanting of “Suru” or the bell accompaniment and strained, pained vocals of the title track serve to reinforce this most feeling. It’s not all somberness and gravitas, though, as “Amen” and “Ave Satanis” protect the middle of the album from an all-too-common sag, with up-tempo riffage and driving rhythm work, a call and response chorus on the former, and great tremmy riffing in the chorus of the latter. This variation in tempo and instrumental focus from track to track is one of the album’s greatest strengths.
My favorite sections are up-tempo, like the quick start-stop trem riffs and sharp solo on opener “Saatanan Sinetti,” the rollicking bass of “Ristinkirot,” and the truly stellar riff work and chanting chorus on standout track “Uhrilahja.” Overall composition is tight, with the band cohesive and seamless, even on tracks I find a bit less compelling, leaving it difficult to call out particular selections as good or bad. The mix only contributes to this, with everything balanced but clear. Even the bass rings out when shadowing the rhythm guitar, which might as well be a unicorn in the context of black metal. And when the bass does step aside for a riff or two, said leads are nice and slinky. The riffage is consistently engaging, albeit not earworm-y like the all-time greats. All that said, the drum work doesn’t stand out as anything special, playing a more supplemental role on much of the album.
It’s difficult to call out problems with this record. “Suru” was a tad dull to my ear, granted, and “Ave Satana” might be too springy for some listeners, but the only major problem is the master. The dynamic range of 6 is consistent across the entire album, and as well put-together a package as it is, I shudder to think what it might have sounded like with more room to breath. The only other minor nitpick I have is that album closer “Machete” feels tacked on, despite being decent. I almost get the feeling that it’s a cover, but the promo doesn’t flag it as such and I can’t find anything by that title.
In spite of a slightly squashed master, this album kills. I’ve no idea if this is top ten material for me, but I will most certainly be revisiting this many, many times in the future, as well as digging through the band’s back catalog.