I don’t think it’s any secret that I love me some good ole fashioned black metal. I like it old and cold, trebly and chaotic, raspy and harsh. When done correctly, not even the above-average, desert temperatures can keep my spine from growing cold or force me to remove my Darkthrone hoodie. It makes me long for harsh snowfalls, biting winds, frozen tundra, and those hovering blackened clouds that envelope me with their fog of uneasy bleakness. Lucky for us, Arvas hails from such despondent and captivating upbringings. Originally known as Örth, and conceived in the motherland of black metal, this Norwegian outfit once sheltered the infamous drummer Grim before he took his own life in 1999. Disbanding after his tragic death, mainman V-Rex resurrected the band in 2001 under the new moniker, Arvas. After some unreleased/released demos and a couple of full-lengths, Arvas are back with the same old attitude – and a new singer – that should sit well with those longing for endless winters and frozen hearts.
As you can probably guess, I’m not about to unveil some new, trendy, or ground-breaking release in the blackened realm of Norwegian extremeness. Instead, the third release from Arvas is as much a dinosaur as a gator-skinned Valley mom that acts her teenage daughter’s age and shamefully smirks at catcalls from sixteen-year-old boys. Stubborn and old, Arvas refuses to grow or accept being outdated. Black Satanic Mysticism begins and ends with the appropriately titled “Intro” and “Outro” bookends full of everything from sustaining keys, eerie atmospheres, crying babies, crashing waves, cawing birds, and sinister growls that remind me of “The Funeral” from King Diamond’s Abigail. As the intro fades into the first real song, you are whiplashed by the nasty, tense, and chaotic T-boning of “Flames of Black;” filling me with giddy recollections of my first night with Gorgoroth. This reminiscence is further amplified by the track’s strong similarity to Gorgoroth openers like “Destroyer” and “Incipit Satan.”
From here Black Satanic Mysticism settles into some classic black metal groove with “Beholder of Demons” and “Redemption Black” before the album begins to fully apply the Arvas individuality. Classic black metal worship takes form in the very Celtic Frost-y “Faith of Negatron,” the Dissection/Watain melodies and emotion of “Follow the Raven,” and the outstandingly memorable lead-guitar licks and Emperor-esque outro of “Starlight Eclipse.” More variety comes from the almost black ‘n’ roll opening of “Summoning” (with some Carpathian Forest claw marks) before tipping the scales to desperate shriekings of Horna. The transition to the slick instrumental “Call of the Abyss” is smooth and fresh as it borrows a recipe from “Starlight Eclipse.”
Celyr’s vox are typical for this raw style as they incorporate the venomous spattings of Nattefrost and Pest on more aggressive tracks and the distantness of Shatraug on the mid-paced, melodic numbers like “Follow the Raven” and “The Summoning.” But the highlight here has to be the leads of V. Rex. Having carried the songwriter, guitar, and throat-abusing positions on past releases, the decision to bring in a singer resulted in a more focused delivery on the six-string and the spontaneity of the aforementioned clean-guitar moments of Dissection and the symphonic elements of old-school Emperor. The drums also carry on the Grim-est of traditions in Snuff X’s smash-in-the-heads drumming approach and his definitively blackened bombardment and syncopation.
Conversely, the bass is pretty low in the mix, which is not surprising from the perspective of a traditional black metal act. Thankfully, Arvas tapped Tom Kvålsvoll (seriously, who the fuck else would they get?) to master this beast of black-masses past. The decent dynamic range and minimal brickwalling make for a pleasant headphone experience and allow those guitar leads and atmospheres to cut through the blackened murk and leave a lasting impression on a spring come too soon. While nothing groundbreaking, Black Satanic Mysticism travels deeper into an old-school sound than their previous releases as it tempts you north with malty tallboys packed in the snow, tubes of corpse paint, a variety of medieval weaponry, and a portable cassette player to round out the tr00 kvlt experience.