Space is fucking big, and there’s an appropriately sizeable array of space-themed metal bands to match. Some artists approach the infinite blackness with a sense of child-like wonder, with bands like Star One and Keldian playing up sci-fi tropes in admiration of the majesty of the star ocean. Others, like Darkspace, channel the cosmos as an unparalleled force of nature; empty, suffocating, and impossibly cold. Battle Dagaroth, a band I had expected to be pure Summoning worship based on their name and “atmospheric black metal” tag, is yet another act intent on aurally replicating the incomprehensible vastness of space. With an aesthetic as grandiose as it is abrasive, this international duo sets out to tackle both of the aforementioned schools of space metal in one fell swoop. In this, the band undoubtedly succeeds; II: Frozen Light of Eternal Darkness is an impressive display of vacuous atmospherics that is, indeed, seemingly endless.
Being a cosmic-minded black metal band, comparisons to Darkspace are perhaps inescapable for Battle Dagorath, but while both bands share much in common, such a singular comparison hardly does the latter band justice. Yes, BD’s sound is mainly comprised of blastbeats, insurmountable walls of low-fi guitars, and cosmic ambiance, but the band utilizes these components in surprisingly dynamic fashion. Frozen Light‘s tracks are seriously long, and while they’re in need of trimming, they take enough unexpected turns to very nearly justify their excessive nature. The twenty-minute “Cast Their Ashes to the North Wind,” for instance, begins life as a fairly standard atmospheric black metal track before receiving an injection of industrial ambiance, later converting into full-on funeral doom at its conclusion. Perhaps even more surprising is “Death Ov Aeons,” a stunning and aggressive piece that mimics early Emperor in its swift drumming and symphonic flavor while sporting an utterly ethereal and mystifying ambient section in its latter half.
In its attempts at mimicking cosmic grandeur, Frozen Light is damn near flawless; I have no qualms with the music itself, and I almost always found something compelling to latch onto throughout its eighty-minute runtime. Ah, but there’s the kicker – Battle Dagorath, for all of its proficiency in atmospherics and incorporation of fringe genres, is an extremely inefficient beast. Frozen Light is a spellbinding experience for its first four tracks, and though it remains compelling past this point, my wonderment thereafter begins to fade to the point where I’m left with an emotional make-up that’s about two-thirds enjoyment and one-third irritation and fatigue [Known as the “Space Madness” in the industry. – Steel]. This isn’t to say that there aren’t gems to be found on the back-end; penultimate track “Supernal Realms” begins to wind things down with a lovely, relatively restrained post-black aesthetic while “Ignus Fatuus” closes the record with an extended take on BD’s hypnotic ambient passages. It’s just a shame that each song couldn’t have been condensed and cut clean in half so that my eyes wouldn’t be glazing over by the time the later cuts arrive.
Performing a cursory once-over of Battle Dagorath‘s back catalog reveals a collection of expectedly lo-fi black metal, and while Frozen Light isn’t exactly a complete one-eighty in its engineering, I find its sound more lush and colorful than the band’s prior material. The mix emphasizes guitars and synths in a balance that effectively contrasts BD’s abrasive and ethereal qualities, with the prevalence of the electronic elements lending the album much more character than the average black metal release. The drums sound thin, though, and the bass is nowhere to be heard, creating a rather chilly soundscape; this is fine in small doses, but as I’ve previously elaborated, Frozen Light is anything but small. Thankfully, the band periodically draws the curtains and allows their compositions to simmer in ambient atmosphere. Unexpectedly grounded field recordings are utilized, with sounds as common as creaking doors and howling winds injecting a refreshing sense of humanity into the otherwise immense proceedings.
Battle Dagorath drags out their motifs to the point where editing down the cosmic leviathan that is Frozen Light would have been an easy task, but I found myself frequently enraptured all the same. Attempts at properly capturing the essence of the cosmos in aural form may prove fruitless endeavors in the face of the unfeeling, unyielding endlessness of space, but BD does a damn admirable job, all the same, filtering its infinite nature through a nuanced and human lens that is equally unsettling and awe-inspiring. This is one record I’ll certainly be returning to come the winter months — in staggered sessions, of course.