Expectations can be a real sonuvabitch for a music critic, and while I typically approach albums with a tempered outlook, my whirlwind relationship with Germany’s Der Weg einer Freiheit’s music made it impossible to withhold any preconceptions. I had no clue they existed until Season of Mist included a free copy of their 2015 album Stellar with my order of the most recent Great Old Ones album; to say I fell for DWeF hard and fast from there would be an understatement. Their sound is an excellent encapsulation of the dynamic nature of modern black metal, splicing post-black sensibilities with melodic bombastic and explosive drum performances. Due to the misguided hype, their fourth LP, Finisterre, was inescapably disappointing for my first few spins; much of what I love about Der Weg einer Freiheit’s prior album’s just isn’t here. With time, though, Finisterre blossomed into what I now regard as a complicated work of heartbreaking beauty, becoming the most impressive “grower” of the year in the process.
My initial hangups with this record can be traced to its seemingly ambiguous personality. DWeF’s last two albums were impressive displays of naked, conflicted emotion; their melodies were gorgeous and tragic, victorious and mournful. Finisterre, on the other hand, offers no easy answers. It by no means pigeonholes itself into a post-black aesthetic, but the album owes noticeably more to post-black metal than the band’s older material. The atmosphere that the resulting spacey tremolo lines conjure is undoubtedly downbeat, but it’s also guarded, with a tangible sense of trepidation forcing honest feelings below surface level. Occasionally, though, its true colors bubble to the surface in a fashion that is both satisfyingly dramatic and achingly human, with the sorrowful finale of “Ein letzter Tanz” in particular providing a surprisingly melodic payoff. This stunning level of emotional intricacy, while not immediately fulfilling, makes for an album that grows more rewarding with every single listen.
Yet in true DWeF fashion, Finisterre is just as concerned with kicking your ass as much as it is with shredding your optimism; the exhilarating blastbeats and second wave hellishness that follow and contradict the summery opening chords of “Aufbruch” see to that. This stark duality of icy aggression and modern black metal sensibilities defines Der Weg einer Freiheit, and despite a notable melodic and tonal shift from their past efforts, the band has barely tinkered with their execution from a mechanical standpoint. They still deal in insurmountable walls of guitars and lengthy, complex songs, and while there is little I would change about this formula, the longer compositions occasionally fail to deliver a fully satisfying conclusion. The title track, for instance, starts off strong with a wonderfully creepy riff that eventually crashes into a basement of cacophonic horrors, but from its midpoint onward the song eases towards a melancholic conclusion that, though pretty, feels a touch anticlimactic.
What does leave me wholly satisfied, as is always the case with DWeF, are the performances. I’m drawing a blank in thinking of a drummer in the current black metal scene superior to Tobias Schuler. Despite dialing back his death metal fills, his performance is as nuanced as ever, frequently accentuating the music with catchy high hat patterns and seamlessly executing tangents into free-form prog excursions with impressive fluidity. Nikita Kamprad provides the guitar performances with an exceptional ear for riff layering and unconventional harmony, all while covering vocal duties and all aspects of the production sans mastering. Speaking of production, Finisterre’s engineering is likely to cause some friction among DWeF’s fans. It certainly has a primal, visceral sound when contrasted with their typically modern sounding production jobs, and while I love the natural pop of the drums, the layered guitars sound noticeably cramped during the most intense passages. Even so, the tones are universally great, and the bass rarely gets lost in the mix despite the frequent chaos.
While it doesn’t quite reach the same cathartic peaks as Der Weg einer Freiheit’s last two albums, Finisterre stands with Boris’ Dear as one of the most emotionally resonant metal records of the year, and it’s a fantastic display of musicianship to boot. After almost ten full listens I feel like I’ve only just begun to fully appreciate its intricacies, a sure sign that DWeF will continue to grow as an emotionally and compositionally complex example of modern black metal in years to come. If you’re looking for an atmospheric black metal album that rewards repeat listens in spades without skimping on aggressive thrills, don’t miss this one.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: derwegeinerfreiheit.de | derwegeinerfreiheit.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/derwegeinerfreiheit
Releases Worldwide: August 25th, 2017