Much like Behexen, Dark Funeral have been at this whole black metal thing for some time. Not sure if “pioneer” is appropriate for these Swedish tremolo-crafters, but they are influential. Their approach is straightforward, their black metal is classic, and their releases consistent. Dark Funeral have never been a top-ten of mine, but 2001’s Diabolis Interium is massive. This second full-length with Masse Broberg (aka Emperor Magus Caligula) remains the pinnacle of the band’s career. His use of rasps and deep growls adds variation to the already varying content. A little bit aggressive, a little bit melodic, a lotta bit Swedish black metal. But the band never quite reached that peak again. And after a decade as the frontman for Dark Funeral, Broberg is gone, having left for Swedish thrash masters, Witchery. But who could replace the voice of Dark Funeral after all these years? What will die-hard fans think? Could this individual ever do the band justice? Is anyone even listening to me?!
Dark Funeral‘s new voice on Where Shadows Forever Reign is one of the best choices they ever made. If you’ve heard of little known black metal acts Grá and Cursed 13, you already know Heljarmadr. For those unfamiliar, Grá reaches into atmospheric black metal while Cursed 13 cranks out some good ole black ‘n roll. The former is moody and the latter is stupid fun. And, as it turns out, I prefer Heljarmadr’s solo work to his work in Dark Funeral. Not that his performance is lackluster; quite the contrary. Heljarmadr is a capable substitute for Broberg, but the content of Grá and Cursed 13 is so much more captivating than Dark Funeral. And the newest Dark Funeral outing, Where Shadows Forever Reign, doesn’t change that.
Opener “Unchain My Soul” gets things going and stands as one of the best tracks on the album. Heljarmadr’s venomous vocals smash forth, leading the Immortal-esque charge of the guitars and drums. Mixing in touches of melody, “Unchain My Soul” is a great representation of the album. “As One We Shall Conquer” and “Beast Above Man” follow with mid-paced Dissection melodies and sinister croaks. Neither make the album, but both have a decent flow that sets up the melodic and atmospheric “As I Ascend.” Heljarmadr’s desperate delivery on here is the perfect contrast to the opener’s ripping rasps.
Other melodic jingles include “Temple of Ahriman,” “The Eternal Eclipse,” and the title track. “The Eternal Eclipse” is the best of the three; focusing on a typical black metal attack that intertwines melodic interludes with beauty and depression. Whereas, “Temple of Ahriman” and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” tap into the melodic heaviness and desperation of Hypocrisy, which is amusing considering that Broberg was Hypocrisy‘s original vocalist before joining Dark Funeral back in the day. Heljarmadr’s vocals even have a Peter Tägtgren-like quality to them. “The Eternal Eclipse” has a bit more memorability than the others, but the moodiness of these tracks is undeniable.
In the end, Where Shadows Forever Reign just doesn’t standout next to an album like Diabolis Interium, and it just barely tops their so-so 2009 release, Angelus Exuro pro Eternus. Songs like “As One We Shall Conquer” and “As I Descend” are typical, while “Temple of Ahriman” and “To Carve Another Wound” are mediocre. “Nail Them to the Cross” is perhaps the catchiest of the album, but even that is textbook Dark Funeral. The production has the typical cleanliness of the band’s recent releases with a compression that resists the urge to crush the album. Heljarmadr’s performance should please even the most die-hard fan, but fans of Heljarmadr’s other projects will most likely be disappointed as those projects allowed for a lot more range and creativity than Dark Funeral can offer. Just the same, his performance is stellar and Where Shadows Forever Reign is a safe debut for him. No fluff, no gimmicks, this is comfort black metal.