It’s always cool to be introduced to new bands, and watch their progress as their skill set broadens and confidence levels increase with each release. Case in point, Danish black metallers Slægt came out of nowhere last year and impressed the hell out of me with their 4-song EP, Beautiful and Damned. Mixing Dissection‘s classically-inspired black metal with heaps of early Dark Tranquillity goodness, Beautiful and Damned left me wanting more. Just over a year later, they return with their second full-length album, Domus Mysterium. With their line-up from Beautiful and Damned fully intact, can Asrok and company capitalize on the abilities that their EP hinted at?
The short answer is a slightly cautious “yes.” First off, their knack of channeling the late Jon Nödveidt remains intact, as amazing flourishes of classical guitar pepper Domus Mysterium without being overused. Opening instrumental “Succumb” and “Burning Feathers” would have felt right at home on Storm of the Light’s Bane, with the latter instrumental giving a somber reprieve from the traditional metal-inspired riff-fest of the rest of the album. Likewise, the twin guitar melodies of Asrok and Anders M. Jørgensen continue to improve and inspire, with the solos on “I Smell Blood” and “The Tower” being key examples of the duo’s growth and talent.
So what’s the hold-up, you may ask yourselves? For as ambitious as the band is and continues to be, the songs themselves could use a bit of editing. “I Smell Blood” could be shortened a good minute or two to increase its impact. Elsewhere, “The Eye of the Devil” starts off beautifully, sounding like Iron Maiden getting lost in Gothenburg, but drags a bit towards the end. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t a seven-minute instrumental.1 The closing title track clocks in at a whopping thirteen minutes, and about three-quarters of the song works. I admire the band’s ambition to tackle a song of that length, but their songwriting isn’t quite there yet.
The other bone of contention I have is with the production. The good news is Olle Bergholz’s bass sounds warm and full, and Ccsquele’s powerful drumming feels organic and driving. The big problem lies in the guitars, or rather how they’re recorded. I’m sure many of you have seen the video on YouTube where a guitar player demonstrates that black metal is just surf music with heavy distortion. Well, I kept thinking of that video during the entirety of Domus Mysterium. The guitars barely possess any distortion, which isn’t a major concern usually, but when they start tremolo-picking (I’m looking at you, “Remember It’s a Nightmare” and “Egovore”), I don’t know whether to headbang or grab a surfboard. It goes from not being a big deal to turning into a major distraction, and that knocks the overall enjoyment down a peg.
But let me stress that there isn’t anything truly bad on Domus Mysterium. Rather, it feels like Slægt aimed a little too high, and too early. I believe they’ll get there in an album or two, but I also believe Beautiful and Damned was a little more successful in hitting the mark. This is still on target, but not as close to the bullseye. Still, they continue to impress. Maybe the next one will hit it dead-on.