2018 has been a damn good year for folk-oriented black metal. Okay, quantitatively speaking, that’s not true at all; more accurately, there have been two particularly captivating releases in the new Sojourner and Vallendusk records that on their own have single-handedly carried the style in recent months. This seems more than a bit unfair to Norway’s Cor Scorpii. Formed from the ashes of Windir by drummer Steingrim and guitarist Strom (neither of whom are actually still in this band), their decade-in-the-making sophomore effort, Ruin, is relatively featureless when stacked against the current crop of folk-black trailblazers. Yet Cor Scorpii‘s more traditional approach certainly isn’t starved for memorable arrangements or the occasional unique instrumental touch, making for a worthwhile and addictive release despite a few pitfalls in song structuring.
Ruin’s defining feature from front to back is the sheer number of guitar tracks that are crammed into each composition. Lead performances are universally stacked with harmonies, meaning that there are always three or even four performances cooperating when counting the rhythm guitars (which also see frequent harmonization), and the result is a lush soundscape loaded with melodic character. The diversity of the record’s song set, combined with the dense instrumentation, makes for a consistently engaging track list despite the fifty-three minute length; highlights such as the atmosphere of destruction and despair conveyed in “Helveteskep” or the sweeping melancholy of “Svart Blod (Hovmod Står For Fall)” provide spikes of greatness above Ruin’s average level of quality, which rarely falls below “pretty solid.”
The lapses in quality do exist, though, and are typically the result of restrictive track structures. This issue is not endemic to Ruin as a whole – the two aforementioned highlights in particular showcase Cor Scorpii’s songwriting chops at their most unrestricted with a perceptible sense of flow and growth – but others such as “Hjarteorm” trap the riffs in a cyclical box that is maddeningly tedious when compared with the album’s choicest cuts. Lead melodies are similarly hit-or-miss; “Skuggevandrar” and “Ærelaus” have clear melodic identities that elevate them near the same level as the best material from this year’s Vallendusk effort (which, come to think of it, maybe Ruin’s closest relative this year in terms of lead guitar execution), but others, like “Fotefar” and “Ri Di Mare,” feature meandering guitar lines that lack a strong sense of melodic intent. As the strong instrumental layering techniques remain persistent even in the weakest tracks, however, nothing really comes across as fully skippable.
Despite its strongest qualities, it took quite a few listens for Ruin to win me over due to its weak production. The despite the curiously high DR value, the mix comes across as so flat that it threatens to rob the adrenaline from a genre that is inherently cathartic, and the diminished drum and bass presence doesn’t exactly help matters. With Cor Scorpii being such a heavily guitar-driven act, it makes sense that the guitars are the best sounding component of Ruin by a few leagues, with sharp, precise highs and gritty lows providing strong tonal presence despite the utterly invalidated bass. And while several elements of Ruin are unfortunately scattershot in execution, the performances are top-notch across the board. From the obviously excellent guitar execution to the catchy cymbal acrobatics of Ole Nordsve and the broad, unique clean vox of keyboardist Gaute Refsnes, Cor Scorpii’s talent set is notably impressive.
While it may live up to neither the standard set by this year’s best folk-black releases nor Windir’s classic albums, Ruin manages to incorporate the best of both traditional and modern interpretations of the genre into one appealing package. Cor Scorpii‘s constant storm of tremolo riffs makes for some of the best black metal moments I’ve heard this year when Ruin is operating at its most thunderously dramatic and melodically gripping; it’s just a shame that its highs aren’t better maintained. Even so, I find that Ruin has significant legs as a record where I find more melodies or riffs to latch onto with every single listen, and as it’s so densely packed with quality, ear-catching guitar work, it’s an easy recommendation for fans of melodic, riff-driven black metal.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 1411 kbps mp31
Label: Dark Essence Records Official | Bandcamp
Websites: corscorpii.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/officialcorscorpii
Releases Worldwide: June 15th, 2018