Ingar Amlien is a persistent fellow. Having formed Crest of Darkness in 1993 to pursue darker fare than his progressive main band Conception would allow, Amlien weathered line-up changes and several fine-tunings of their blackened thrash formula. Their last album, 2013’s In The Presence of Death, impressed our very own Madam X with their rifftastic blasphemy, goofy cover notwithstanding. Now it’s my turn to enjoy deep of Norwegian black-thrash with their seventh album, Welcome the Dead. Has Amlien mastered the sacred art of all things unholy, kvlt, and tr00, or will this be welcomed by the Necromantic Dragging into the Blasphemous Recycle Bin of Evil?
Within seconds of the opening title track, razor-sharp 1349-esque tremolo riffs and thunderous fills courtesy of new drummer Bernhard bombard you. Amlien’s high-pitched goblin-cackling remains potent, preciousss-ing with remarkable clarity and bite. For as riffy and cold as the song gets, the amount of traditional motifs and classic hooks that Crest of Darkness implements is staggering. Guitarist Rebo cuts loose with a tasty guitar solo, and we are thrown back into the cesspool for the song’s final minute or so. Already, Welcome The Dead left me impressed.
And for the most part, the album succeeds in marrying the iciest of black metal with the hook-filled intensity of classic thrash. “Borrowed Life” gallops and tramples, but also recalls the build-up that early Metallica used to master. “The Noble Art,” the closest the band comes to traditional black metal, still retains all the melodic hooks and tension of classics from yore while adding an icy-cold sheen. “Chosen by the Devil” marches forth with a simplistic-yet-effective guitar-and-bass riff and a commanding performance by Bernhard behind the kit. When the band fires on all cylinders, they give the likes of Immortal (and by proxy, Abbath) a run for their money.
That’s not to say that Welcome the Dead exists in a flawless, necrophilic state. The instrumental “My Black Bride,” while performed capably well, feels out-of-place. Likewise, closer “Katharsis,” a track featuring famed Norwegian actor (and Rebo’s brother) Espen Reboli Bjerke delivering a spoken word piece on becoming one with darkness, fails to evoke feelings of evil or blasphemy. The song’s length, repetitious use of the same riff over and over, and the fact that Bjerke is practically buried in the mix, turns his performance into nothing more than a rant. Also, “Scourged and Crucified” could do with the shortening of the intro riff, which sounds like a blacker version of White Zombie‘s “More Human Than Human,” but with more Gollum.
That said, the Nils H. Mæhlum production adds a surprising amount of warmth to Welcome the Dead. Amlien’s bass possesses some nice heft and thickness. The guitars retain the icy treble needed for black metal, yet add a healthy amount of mid-range frequencies for the incredible solos. The drums also sound great with only a little bit of cymbal distortion here and there. My only qualm lies in the chosen patches of session keyboardist Kristian Wentzel, as some of them scream “80’s Casio preset” at times, especially at the end of “Borrowed Life” and all of “Katharsis.”
But for all the scrutiny, I enjoyed Welcome the Dead and its hybridization of blackened thrash. While Vredehammer put out the album to match in this genre, Crest of Darkness came forth with a good, solid album of their own. And although I wasn’t floored, I see myself coming back to certain songs on a repeated basis. They also got me checking out their back catalog, which constitutes as a “win” in my book.