How much stock do you place in authenticity? Do you opt for subtitles over the dub? Will you only reach for your wallet if a suit was hand stitched by a broom closet-dwelling tailor in Milan? And even if you can’t believe it’s not butter, do you push it aside for the original, anyway? When it comes to music, when one hears the word “Norway” invariably the next words that follow are “black metal” so it may be comforting to know that Dødsengel — with their own brand of svart metall — hails from the land of frost and cod. But black metal in 2017 is a far cry from black metal circa 1993 and in that time the genre has divided and subdivided so many times that the parent would scarcely recognize the child. Interequinox is the latest album from these veterans, but will it sate the appetites of rusted-on purists or is it best left for those who enjoy the road less traveled?
Regardless of your predilections, if there’s one area listeners of all persuasions can unite behind it’s being pampered. Dødsengel, a reclusive duo named Kark and Malach Adonai, are no strangers when it comes to offering their fans value for money. Their third record, Inperator was a double-album clocking in an eye-watering 150 minutes. With Interequinox hitting the scales at around 57 minutes, the pair has trimmed things back to middleweight territory, but everything within it is burnished to a sumptuous gleam. Whether it’s the enigmatic cover art, the beautiful and ornate lyric booklet or the rare but welcome dynamic range that gives the instruments ample room to stretch their limbs, Dødsengel have fallen over themselves to give listeners the full package. Not something black metal is well known for.
What the genre is known for is unrelenting misanthropy, and while Interequinox has its moments of withering invectives the musical language uttered here is twisted, focused more on creating an unsettling atmosphere than grinding you into a fine paste. Take opener “Pangenetor,” a muted track that smolders with agony, flittering between expulsions of intensity and navel-gazing rumination. “Værens Korsvei” leans towards familiarity, producing dollops of blast beats and wiry guitar work of the sort offered by Taake and Darkthrone. Solid, if not brazenly imaginative. Things take a turn for the abstract with “Opaque,” a stomach-churning track that uses the rusty primary riff and off-key, twanging notes to foster a current of madness that beckons the arrival of some unseen eldritch horror. Many of the twists and turns in Interequinox are subtle, the tone ratcheting incrementally so that by the time you’ve noticed the malaise it’s already burrowed into your psyche like a tick.
“Palindrome” is a genuine surprise, opening with a roiling, serpentine solo doused in Southern spices, only to lurch into an occult delirium that exhales a suffocating atmosphere of impending woe. When Kark wails “The labyrinth of stagnation exists only in the mind of the palindrome,” goosebumps erupt across my body as I picture his gibbering face wracked by rapturous insanity. Contrary to its title, the only mark against this track is that it doesn’t end exactly as it started. There are, however, other blights to be found on Interequinox, as the album has a frustrating habit of dolling out anodyne passages after birthing moments of scabrous delight. Flashes of color and weirdness such as the female vocals and goth Brit-rock found in “Rubedo,” or the haunting, early-Arcturus chanting in “Gloria In Excelsis Deo” are given a starker spotlight by virtue of other areas on the record being content to sit on its hands.
These slights are not potent enough to crater the total experience, as Dødsengel have poured their darkened hearts into producing an album that works as a functional whole. Interequinox appealed to me intellectually and conceptually, but it lacked the killer riff or euphoric moment that stokes the fires of obsession. Perhaps the pair’s reluctance to fully commit to either pulverizing annihilation or eyebrow-raising experimentation is what kept me from gulping down the Kool-aid. I suspect it’s the latter, for where I see Dødsengel rising above their peers is if they divest themselves from any lingering normalcy and pull the rip-cord on weird. For now, this platter of measured lunacy offers a worthwhile peek into the darkness.