I used to live near a funny little Polish deli, and my mother would often buy meats from there because Poland seems to do quite well in that area, especially sausage. I don’t recall my experiences in that place very well (I was probably about ten the last time I was there), but it’s apparently common knowledge that you weren’t exactly treated wonderfully there unless you were obviously Polish. Sounds like a bit of a strange business strategy, but I suppose the free market can always use innovation, no matter how small or eccentric. Elderblood hails from Ukraine, but judging by how they sound on their second full-length Messiah, they could waltz right into that deli and get lavished with attention and sausages.
Given that Messiah comes across as somewhat blasphemous, you’d be correct in assuming that the main Polish influence on Elderblood is latter-day Behemoth. There are hints of a less cheesy but more chunky Dimmu Borgir, along with a dash of Emperor’s Prometheus. The symphonic bits are far more in line with SepticFlesh and Dimmu Borgir than Emperor and the like, so they err on the big and bombastic side of things. Given the many similarities to Behemoth, there’s a nice amount of death metal floating around in Messiah’s brew, but it comes filtered through Dissection’s sound. Given that two members of Nokturnal Mortem play in Elderblood, with frontman Astargh performing guitars and vocals on 2009’s The Voice of Steel, similarities will doubtlessly be recognized between both bands, although Messiah doesn’t have the folky sounding elements of The Voice of Steel.
Messiah contains some of the most aggressively competent music I’ve heard all year. Opener “Thagirion’s Sun” misuses some dramatic pauses which fall flat instead of build tension, but redeems itself with a great piano-led melody to close it off, making a good first impression and giving me high hopes for the record. “In Burning Hands of God” has some good clean vocals over music that sounds like what Abrahadbra really should’ve, making for another great part of Messiah that’s truly compelling. “Devil in the Flesh” is energetic and impressive enough, and sees Elderblood firing on all cylinders for some of its second half, particularly a notably great fifteen seconds that contains Messiah’s best tremolo melody backed by a drum pattern that manages to enhance it.
“Adamas Ater” begins with more soundtrack-esque keyboards, and it goes all-in on the bombast. It reminds me a good bit of Behemoth’s “O Father, O Satan, O Sun!” but it lacks that song’s greatness. While The Satanist’s closer was practically regarded as a modern-day classic, “Adamas Ater” can be fairly regarded as a fitting and sensible closer to a good record. This issue applies to Messiah as a whole; it’s good, but it isn’t anything special. “Satana” shows this quite well, being perfectly serviceable and fairly enjoyable, but lacking in the intangible elements that separate the great bands from the good ones. The keyboard symphonics are well-implemented, Elderblood wisely doesn’t let keyboards completely bury guitars or vice versa, and the music is overall just good. Good things find an audience, but they don’t find a place in the upper echelons of the genre or on year-end lists. The production reminds of Behemoth in its squashed nature, leaving the drums sounding a bit shallow, bass almost absent, and guitars and keyboards unfortunately circumscribed within a narrow range.
The hardest part of coming to grips with Elderblood’s latest wasn’t trying to find things I like about it; those pop up enough, as each song has good parts and is structured nicely. No, the most difficult aspect of Messiah was trying to come to grips with why I didn’t like it more, because it’s got parts that come so close to greatness it’s almost painful. Good music merits attention and recognition because it’s well-constructed, well-played, memorable in some sense, and would ideally be enjoyed by its target audience. In this sense, Messiah is a good record chock full of good music. Great music has all of the above, but also produces a visceral reaction of some sort along with it: goosebumps, a gut-punch, exhilaration, elation, sorrow, and the like. In this sense, I can’t call Messiah a great record full of great music, as much as I wish I could. Unfortunately, this leaves me with a record akin to a movie you’d rent from a Blockbuster (remember those?), watch once or twice, and return in three days instead of adding to your collection.