Behexen // Nightside Emanations
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Black metal for fans of the 2nd wave
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Release Dates: EU: 2012.09.21 | NA: 10.09.2012
Finnish black metal band Behexen began their infernal career in 1994 and have defiantly released new infernal material every few years, regardless of line-up shifts and new label relationships. Nightside Emanations is their fifth full-length album, though they also have numerous released in the form of demos and EPs. Behexen is deeply intertwined with several other black metal bands as well: vocalist Torog and drummer Horns also perform in Sargeist, and guitarist Shautrag is a member of both Sargeist and Horna.
Behexen are very much creatures of the second wave of European black metal, and their identities are firmly rooted in that aesthetic and culture. Not ones to deviate from their chosen path, and certainly not about to start experimenting now. Rather than opting to make drastic changes in approach, they have instead chosen to pursue subtle refinement. Staying within the rigidly proscribed confines of raw, early black metal, Behexen up the finest interpretation of that sound that they can while still maintaining its integrity.
This record begins with an ominous minor-key organ intro, which immediately gives it the feel of a cult horror film from a long-ago decade. There can be do doubt that Nightshade Emanations is a period piece, donning the image, aesthetic ad aural texture of a previous decade. Which is not to say that Behexen aren’t authentic – quite the contrary, they were one of the bands that helped shaped the sound they so proudly own and carry on. But like any period piece, their work requires a little bit of suspended disbelief, as the listener must pretend that almost two decades haven’t elapsed since Behexen first began to compose. It helps that Behexen are committed to making engaging work, and write songs that are catchy and demonically infections rather than atonal and alienating. While there is plenty of hostility, there’s also a lot of dark pleasure to be had from Nightside Emanations.
Behexen make it easy to pretend that music hasn’t been changed by the ravages of time. Nightside Emanations is a vicious, pitiless composition, with a misanthropic and poisonous heart. The production is full of the requisite grit and filth, distorting the gelid guitar tone and twisting the wrathful vocals into ugly shapes. What sets Behexen‘s approach to raw black metal production is how intelligently it is deployed: they’ve practiced and perfected their approach, and so know when to add a few moments of clarity to create contrast, a few shimmering moments of lightness is the murk. Conversely, they also know when they should grub things up even more for effect, such as during the uglier moments of “We Burn with Serpent Fire,” to makes things even more grim and stinking of brimstone.
While their compositional techniques and style are set in stone, one area where Behexen display quite a bit of variety is in the song structures themselves, and in particular in the pacing. After the Intro, Nightshade Emanations begins with two squalling, thunderous pieces, “Wrathful Dragon Hau-Hra” and “Death’s Black Light,” that ravage the listener like a blast of arctic wind. Then, things curve sharply left with “Circle Me,” which has a slower, more sullen, throbbing rhythm, and takes on the cadence of an invocation. Torog’s voice is cleaner than on many tracks as he opens up and bellows, equal parts desperate pleading and awful command. Throughout the record, Behexen break up the pattern, interleaving slower, writhing pieces amid the more high-energy scourging. Keeps the record from ever feeling monotonous and gives the overall structure a sense of ebb and flow, tension and release
There are a few missteps on the album. “Awaken Tiamat” feels very much like a weak link, a bit vague and weakly deployed amid the exceptional tightness of the rest of the record. Also, while the sound is generally mean and full beneath the grime of distortion, and one can always feel the muscle just below the surface, there are moments where I wish the guitars were allowed to shine a little more. I’d never advocate lifting all the texture off the sound, but lightening the distortion just slightly to give them a little more breathing room here and there. For example, the guitar work in the last third of “Temple of Silent Curses” is excellent, and the tone is bang on, but on “We Burn with Serpent Fire” the solo sounds much more swallowed and musty.
Behexen know who they are and what they want, and they have made another record that is solidly in their wheelhouse. The final product is very good, well-rendered and characterized by intelligent decisions in both song-writing, production and overall structure. This is not a new sound, but it is a new iteration of the sound, and the songs are catchy and darkly anthemic. Sometimes the most oft-repeated sins are revisited so often because they are simply the best and most blasphemous – and that is certainly the case with Nightshade Emanations, a collection of good old sins for your delectation.