For today’s selection, we have the up and coming Swedish black metal act Rev 16:8 (formely known as both Bloodshed and Scythe). Ashlands is their second release and up until I got the promo I’d never heard a thing about them under any of their numerous names (of all of them, the new one is the pits). They play what could be called modern black metal and Ashlands is loaded with rough, ugly black metal mostly played at blasting speeds. While they don’t exactly reinvent the wheel or bring anything very new to the genre, they execute well and some of the material shines with potential and talent. In a field that has grown increasingly overloaded with copycat acts and stagnation, do they have what it takes to rise above the black masses and stand out? Well, not yet but maybe soon.
Wasting no time getting to the blackness, Rev 16:8 forgoes the near mandatory intro of wind whistling through dark woods and over grim mountains. Instead they unleash the hounds with “Agenda” which goes right about the blast beating, fierce trem-picking and the intense and varied vocal assault of lead man Talon. Its not original in any sense but its intense, powerful, raw and ugly. There are solid riffs scattered throughout and they’re delivered with a raucous guitar tone. Talon alternates between black cackles, death roars, strange commanding military-like barks and pained spoken segments and the variety gives the song a slightly deranged, schizophrenic feeling. Its a solid, blistering number with clear parallels to Dark Funeral and Marduk as well as traces of the less symphonic works of Dimmu Borgir. They’re not exactly copying any of those established acts but its safe to say they were influences. The beatings continue with tracks like “Ashlands,” “Blackline Sundown” and “Serenades,” all pack a respectably raw, nasty wallop. However, its the few times Rev 16:8 departs from the blasting and try something different that end up being the album high points. On “The Chase” they go for more of an ugly, black n’ roll thing with a slower pace and basic rock song structure. Its still nasty and vile but has an undeniably cool groove and swing to it that sets it apart and makes it more memorable. On “Coal Mirror” they slow way down and go for a creepy grind loaded with tense atmosphere and anguished wailing. Its very effective and another standout moment.
The biggest knock against these chaps is the tendency toward a generic feeling on some tracks. While decent, tracks like “Serenades,” “Rust Retinal Vein” and “When Your Words Are Obsolete” have a certain blandness to them that hurts the album. I listened to them a bunch but was always left with a “so what” feeling. Another negative are the two ambient interludes that take up space and don’t add anything to the album’s character.
That said, Talon’s vocals are a success and his use of multiple styles instead of just a standard black croak really helps get the music over and at times he carries songs with his vocal lunancy (“Blackline Sundown” from 1:00 onward as he seems to be having seizures and orgasms simultaneously). Likewise, Talon and Nefastus come up with respectable black metal riffs on most of the songs (especially “Ashlands” at 2:25 and “Coal Mirror” generally). The absence of keyboard and any type of fruity symphonia is an additional pleasant choice as I’m growing mighty tired of symphonic black metal lately.
So basically Ashlands ends up a decent but unexceptional release. It definitely showcases some interesting potential and a few interesting ideas but overall it isn’t an essential purchase. I predict good things in the future for them if they focus on the experimental aspects of their sound and avoid falling into the rut of generic blasting.