I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 1349 is a strange duck. Two decades and six full-lengths later, the band that recruited one of the best black metal drummers in the world is almost unrecognizable. After chasing, trapping, and butchering dragons from the debut to the almighty Hellfire, the band let their fingers, wrists, forearms, and feet have a rest. That day, ten years ago, the band shocked and frightened their fanbase with the infamous Revelations of the Black Flame. Rather than the signature blitzkrieg that defined the first three albums, the band structured that album into an almost story-like fashion. With tension, suspense, climax, and a conclusion. Then 1349 took this concept-like approach to the extreme with Demonoir. And the band has never tried to duplicate its sound of yore. Though 2014’s Massive Cauldron of Chaos backed off the nightmare of Demonoir and Revelations of the Black Flame to have a little more fun, this Norwegian quartet still has Demonoir on its mind. Already seven levels deep into “The Tunnel of Set,” how much deeper will The Infernal Pathway go?
Well, it depends on what you mean by “deep.” As one would expect, the short, instrumental “Tunnel of Set” pieces1 of The Infernal Pathway are simple moments that provide short intermissions to the chaos. But, more so, they split up the songwriting like chapters of a book. This is a bit different compared to the every-other-song structure of Demonoir. These tracks are what one would expect but, what you won’t expect, is what lies beneath these them.
If you had blindfolded me and told me to listen to the opening track as if it was a new, nameless black-thrash band, I would have believed you. If it weren’t for Ravn’s unmistakable vocals, “Abyssos Antithesis” would be the product of yet another Norwegian outfit. I mean, how many 1349 songs have a mid-song breakdown? And, to make you question yourself even more, the song transitions to dark, closing melodies that morph into the follow-up track, “Through Eyes of Stone.” Though this song carries more melodic weight than its predecessor, it still maintains the thrashiness and a headbangeable midsection. We’re only two songs and I bet you’re as confused as I am.
But, like a storybook, “Tunnel of Set VIII” ends this chapter of thrashiness to begin anew. “Enter Cold Void Dreaming” is a song you’ve come to expect from 1349‘s twenty-plus-year career. It has more in its four-minute runtime than most black metal bands have in an entire record. It chugs along with some of the hardest-hitting riffs on the album with vocal hammer blows that accent the chaotic chuggery. In a single word, this song is chaos. And “Towers upon Towers” maintains that same insanity with thrashy vibes and a shitload of Immortal atmosphere. But, this is only the beginning, as back-half pieces “Dødskamp” and “Deeper Still” borrow from the winter blizzards of their brothers. Like “Enter Cold Void Dreaming,” “Deeper Still” is a mountain of melody, with memorable vocal patterns to boot. Yet, “Dødskamp” is a story all its own. Using the vicious vocal punches of “Enter Cold Void Dreaming” and the melodic character of “Through Eyes of Stone,” “Dødskamp” arrives at a powerful and gorgeous conclusion unlike anything else on the album.
The only other song that comes close to upstaging “Dødskamp”—as far as builds and well-roundedness go—is closer “Stand Tall in Fire.” With an almost Bathory-like approach, this song is a stew that thickens every minute, producing dark, Satanic imagery that attempts to capture all Demonoir in a single track. But its downfall is that it carries on too long. And, like the closer, “Striding the Chasm” suffers from overstaying its welcome. While it’s a pleasing piece of black-‘n’-roll-influenced wizardry, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Then there’s “Dødskamp.” While it’s praised by many as the black metal song of the year, it fails to maintain that status with repeat listens.
In the end, The Infernal Pathway is an odd mix of influences, chopped up between Demonoir-influenced instrumentals. Yet, the greatest achievement of the record is its dynamics. Goddamn, you can hear everything on this album. If only the music and album arrangement held up to the production. In the end, this new release is on the same level as Massive Cauldron of Chaos. It won’t be the Demonoir sequel you’ve been waiting for,2 but lovers of Massive CoC will enjoy it.
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 1,411 kbps wav
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: 1349som.bandcamp.com | legion1349.wdex.siteman.no | facebook.com/1349official
Releases Worldwide: October 18th, 2019