There are things you can count on every year around this time. Resolutions will be made, pursued, and immediately broken. If you’re American, groundhogs will be conspicuously spied on because of some archaic weather myth involving them and their shadows. And no matter what nationality you are, we will have a metric ass-ton of black metal to review. Finland’s IC Rex have returned from an eight-year recording sabbatical with their fourth full-length, Tulen Jumalat (translated as “Gods of Fire”). Having gone from a one-man project to now featuring members of Saturnian Mist among its ranks, can mainman Artifex IC set the world aflame or is this meant to dwell in the Punxsutawnian shadows of the groundhog, ready to be forgotten?1
A handful of tracks sways the meter towards the former. “Ilmarinen” riffs away, reminding one of early Rotting Christ in its ambiance and reliance on keyboards. The guitars, when they’re audible, possess an ethereal, almost otherworldly character. Follow-up (and standout track) “Melek-Taus” is the most ferocious of all the songs on the album, featuring an impressive tremolo melody riff that’s carried through most of the song, and a couple of slower, heavier parts where things are given permission to build and breathe. “Lucifer” also blazes away at a clip, but showcases some atmosphere. It’s not often in black metal of this variety where the music is given some much-needed breathing space to develop a sense of progression and growth. I’m honestly happy to see black metal musicians incorporating that philosophy.
That said, I just wish the rest of the material didn’t bore me to tears. In the last paragraph, I mentioned how the guitars craft some impressive melodies, but only if they’re heard. For whatever reason, the band figured that featuring the keyboards, front-and-center, would be a grand idea. There’s no problem with this if they were doing anything even remotely interesting, but more often than not, they’re either single-note drones (“Heimdall”) or simplistic, repetitive melodies (closer “Ikuinen Musta Liekki”). Worse than that, the songs long outstay their welcome. “Prometheus” feels like a fifteen-minute drone at half of the actual length. Likewise, its follow-up “Agni” drags and drags and drags with repetitive riffing, a lethargic military drummed ending with a woefully-average guitar solo, and its near eight-minute length.
Tulen Jumalat proudly carries the low-fi torch into the new year production-wise. With the exception of Artifex IC’s rasps and screams, the vocals are buried under the guitars and keyboards, rendering the chants in “Heimdall” and “Agni” impotent. The keyboards, again, bury practically everything. Oddly enough, you can sense bass in this, but it never stands out. And rather strangely, despite the score below, the mix is fatiguing. Not as fatiguing as the actual songwriting on display, however, as more often than not I was wishing for songs to end, and they wouldn’t until well past the point of expiration.
Rather than raze the earth to ashes, IC Rex grabbed some wet branches and a lighter and hoped for the best. With so much black metal being released in such a short time frame, Tulen Jumalat shines in parts, but usually simmers tepidly. It’s best to put this on ice and move on.