What’s the current ratio of vocalist changes to church burnings for Norwegian black metallers Ragnarok? I suspect it’s leaning a little higher on the side of the former rather than the latter with them now being onto their fifth vocalist – HansFyrste. Likened to Taake, Urgehal, Carpathian Forest and HansFyrste’s original band Svarttjern, Ragnarok deliver black metal in the classic style, making use of corpse paint, fire and spikes and they deliberately shun all things avant-garde, nu-metal and hardcore. Despite this (or because of it), their seventh studio album Malediction holds a whole heap of tastiness that I certainly hadn’t anticipated. Ragnarok haven’t re-invented the blackened torture wheel so much as made some small, but significant, tweaks to improve on it, thereby making Malediction an unexpected joy for my twisted mind.
The opening track “Blood of the Saints” ties in perfectly with the album art for Malediction, but more than that, the track goes about successfully setting the tone for the rest of the album with a delightfully ominous intro that gives you the impression that you’re walking through the after-effects of complete carnage, bodies of saints strewn about without remorse, their blood flowing in rivers at your feet. And about 30 seconds in when the spell is broken, the darkest most blasphemous energy is unleashed with the blistering speeds of Bolverk’s guitar riffs and blastbeats that hammer mercilessly at your eardrums compliments of Jontho. In terms of HansFyrste’s vocal abilities, he’s able to hold his ground in the black metal arena and barring Hoest (Taake), I don’t feel remiss in saying he’s by far the best front-man Ragnarok’s seen! “Necromantic Summoning Ritual” (more necromancy, this pleases me) lays it all out there, showcasing the raw, shrill, aggressive and suitably evil vocal range HansFyrste can achieve, while impressively still keeping his vocals clear enough for you to discern the majority of his actual message [Madam X is essential the spokeswoman for all things “necro,” in case you didn’t notice – Steel Druhm].
Standout moments and or tracks on Malediction, include “(Dolce et Decorum Est) Pro Patria Mori,” which opens up with a pleasing Behemoth-esk drum pattern and guitar riff that hooked it’s evil little claws into me on its first play through and only got itself progressively more embedded on further listens. Shaking loose of that beast saw me blindsided by “Dystocratic” – when the hell did Syn join Ragnarok? The opening guitar riff for “Dystocratic” sounds eerily like something I would expect to find on an A7X album and it’s more than a shock to the system when HansFyrste’s shrieks kick in rather than Shadows!
I have no complaints with regards this album, in terms of length it runs in at 45 minutes which balances out well with the brutal nature of the instrumentation, vocals and lyrical content. In terms of production, fans of Ragnarok’s earlier work will remember the old-school raw, almost downright guttural, lack of clarity approach adopted by the band – they were true to their black metal roots in every sense of the word. On Malediction, however, Swedish Studio Endarker (responsible for Marduk’s Wormwood) opted for a cleaner, less raw, modern approach – which I suspect will make many a purist weep… or randomly set fire to things (and by things, I mean churches).
With an industry flooded with mediocre, done and done and done before black metal that completely lacks any imagination, Ragnarok have made sufficient tweaks to their sound to set it apart from the rest, making this album a welcome addition to my playlist and a great starting point for new Ragnarok (and Svarttjern) fans. I suspect that purists will take a little longer to come around to the new sound on offer – stick with it though, it’s plenty tasty! [and necro!! – Steel Druhm].