The metal underground has many virtues: ingenuity, a give-no-fucks attitude, and in many cases listener loyalty. How else does one explain a band like Eisregen, who have cranked out album after album over a twenty-year career, while still clinging tightly to the shadows? Fegefeuer marks these Germans’ thirteenth release, one shrouded in mystery, teased as it was with a simple “Satan loves you.” But any long-runner is prone to missteps; our career retrospectives are testament to that. How are Eisregen handling this particular round in the studio?
Following frankly pointless intro “Vorhölle,” Fegefeuer breaks into its signature stylistic medley: frigidly melodic black metal in the vein of Taake or early Immortal and Ulver, blended sparingly with weighty death riffs a la Morbid Angel and spiced liberally with a sense of melodrama straight from the same playbook as Carach Angren. “Fegefeuer” sets the listener off with the heavy riffing before breaking into tremolo, but the dramatics are kept to a minimum initially, with the band favoring aggression instead. The same holds true for “Oden auf dem Leichenberg,” the excellent “Axtmann,” and “Es lauert.” Many other tracks, including the almost whimsical “Alice im Wundenland,” synth-violin-heavy “Opfer,” or anguished (almost) closer “Ich mach dich bleich” crack up the drama to excellent effect. Additionally, the digipak version of the album closes with a trio of solid, if unimaginative, covers, the best of which is of Mysticum’s kickass “Black Magic Mushrooms.” One final track worth note is “Die Bruderschaft des 7. Tages,” opening with a snappy spoken word segment before breaking into moving, doomy, tremolo-bass interplay, all overlaid with the usual raspy screaming. This ain’t the most original take on the genre, but strong songwriting and excellent riff-craft gives it a lot of staying power.
Unfortunately, the band leans a little too heavy on the melodrama for its own good, best exemplified by the goofy “Knockentorte” (or “bone pie,” for the non-Deutschophones out there). On top of the already achingly weighty mood and tortured vocal delivery (and sappy opening violins), the track also slows to a crawl to accompany what should have instead been a capella bits with… sawing audio samples. Y’know, like a bone saw. Geddit? It’s painfully overdone and grinds the album to an immediate halt the first time it crops up, only getting worse with repetition (because of course, said segment forms the post-chorus). Doubling down on the bad ideas, however, the vocal accompaniment to this is raspy screams of “Fleisch, Fleisch, Fleisch!” and “Blut, Blut, Blut!” It’s like it was written by a schlocky horror villain, and not in the fun way a la The Black Dahlia Murder. Fortunately, the other dramatic bits are much better, but the third track “Knochentorte” still arguably poisons the well.
The production is workmanlike, with jagged but stiff guitar tones, snappily organic drum triggers, and a mix that balances everything well enough. As mentioned, guitarist Markus Stock is solid in his axemanship, but vocalist M. Roth really shines, offering a range of delivery styles from savage and furious to anguished, to mildly deranged in the sung and spoken pieces; in all but one case (the unfortunate track already mentioned), the man’s voice is engaging or even enthralling. Still, something about this album fails to grip; the drums could use more punch, and the guitar tone feels oddly safe for a black metal release. The resemblance of Roth’s vocal timbre to that of Rammstein’s Til Lindeman, while doubtlessly unintended (and arguably not controllable), is also somewhat distracting when the cleans come in. The master, as expected, is completely unremarkable: over-compressed but not painfully so, and mostly organic sounding as one expect for a black metal release.
Overall, Fegefeuer is nothing to write home about, but is solidly enjoyable album so long as you have some tolerance for cheese on your blackened platter. It’s not enough to prompt much curiosity in me regarding that extensive back catalog, but if Eisregen already hit the spot for you, this is a nice serving of the usual, and there’s nothing wrong with that.