Written By: Nameless N00b_19
Black metal is a branch of the heavy metal tree that once, a long time ago, traded on fear and a reputation for violence and chaos. Nowadays, the genre doesn’t inspire nearly the same degree of terror it once did. Somewhere between corpse-painted cat memes, dalliances with commercial success, and the general overreach of the internet, the teeth of those early days have been filed down quite a bit; another form of dark expression saturated by the direct sunlight of too much attention. Enter Domgård, a band formed in Göteborg, Sweden back in 1997 by Jonas Almén, aka Vindkall. When not writing and creating the three full-length albums thus far to their name, the multi-instrumentalist has done jail time for such things as assault and church arson. If failing to stir up the same media attention as those guys nine years earlier in Norway, his actions and the band’s dedication to chaosophy and occultism has certainly left no room for the doubting of authenticity. Well, anyone can burn a church. Writing a black metal album that makes someone feel like burning a church is a far more difficult challenge. Domgård embark on fourth full-length Rót with the intention to set hearts afire and, cliché or not, to keep it true and “kvlt.” Blighting the spring of 2019 on Carnal Records, the band will seek to build upon the blueprint of polished rawness they’ve thus far set down.
On prior releases, Domgård distinguished themselves with elevated musicianship and attention to detail, instead of any reliance on lo-fi rawness as a marker of their dedication to Satan. This is immediately evident on Rót, an album that, like its predecessors, also explores themes of heathenism and chaos magick 1. The result is a heady mix of old school black n’ roll with a taste or two of folk-inspired guitar and an understated, yet effective use of keyboards. This is quite triumphantly accomplished on “Bergelmirs Blod,” a song that begins with the straightforwardness of opener “Trollfader Djävulen,” before diverting into more progressive territory, albeit with a fair degree of genuine feeling in the arrangements. There’s a smoothness to the compositions and a grasp of song dynamics that bands either have or lack. Domgård have it, and while their work on Rót may not break new ground in black metal, they succeed because they expand on their own template in satisfying ways. On “Nar Loven Faller Faller Ni Alla,” a dark folkish beginning hangs on ice cold riffs before launching, not into the typical blast fest one might expect, but a head-nodding mid-paced segment. Soon the song picks up velocity, but it’s a very considered journey. Chaos-magick might be their theme, but the music feels quite patiently composed. The parts are succinctly arranged, deliberately put together, but the whole manages to raise the pulse and keep things interesting.
Rót is by no means an album that forgets what it is trying to accomplish, but there is perhaps a slight drop-off in intensity about mid-way through. “Sejdmannens Drömmar” is meant as a slow burner, similar in vein to a brooding Bathory-style track, but it lacks punch. It goes for an almost graceful, epic feel, and while the superb playing and production guarantees you won’t have a bad listen, it somehow takes the energy from the album’s first section and doesn’t quite reflect it back at the listener. The title track comes next, with its dreamy instrumental guitar repetition. Domgård is building tension here, and one gets the feeling that what follows these two tracks will determine if Rót sizzles or simmers away into the ether.
To the credit of the band and ultimate triumph of the album, “Lokabrenna” does a far better job with that dusty old cliché “epic.” Here come those beautiful dynamics again, speed transposed against tension-building setups that elevates the listen from passing fancy to many return spins on the turntable. This one is a long and rampant highlight, with every element of the Khold-and-Stilla-meets-Bathory sound the band is intent on perfecting. The quality and attention to detail remains high along the back nine of the album, but if fans are searching for the viciousness evident on their first few albums, here it’s camouflaged amid a windswept elegance more focused on telling a story than bludgeoning the listener.
All told, Rót is an album propped up by the sum of its parts. The bottom end, held down with masterful performances by Hrimnir (drums) and Askr (bass guitar), is a total win. The bass guitar sound is left nice and high in the mix. It’s a pleasure to experience and balances the icy riffs of Vindkall and the bitter growl of Mardröm (Dark Funeral) quite well. Not as unhinged as a lot of orthodox black metal, Rót succeeds because of fairly consistent writing that reaches some superb heights.