Ah, the ever refreshing Khors; arguably the finest Ukranian black metal beast currently at large (yes, better than Drudkh) is back with Wisdom of Centuries. As eager as I was to get this into my stereo, I was admittedly worried they wouldn’t be able to follow-up the slobberknocker badassery of 2010’s Return to Abandoned, which is one of my favorite black metal albums of the past few years. That platter was so awash with hooky melodies, diverse moods and controlled, icky black rage, equalling or topping it seemed a near impossible challenge. Sadly, Wisdom of Centuries is indeed a step backward. For starters, it’s essentially an EP in length, with only four real songs and four short transitions. That isn’t much material to work with, regardless of the quality. Still, that undeniable charm from Return makes some reappearances and it’s still an enjoyable and proficient example of melodic black metal; but it’s no return to…Return.
After a brief interlude, the lengthy “Black Forest’s Flaming Eyes” rocks out in much the same style as Return. The trade offs between furious trem-riffing, blasts and melodic, mid-tempo segments are as well executed as ever and some of the mellower riff patterns are top quality, as are Helg’s brutal vocals, which swing from black to death to suit the moods. Moments of moody, bleak grinding run alongside acoustic strumming, plucking and twinkling but understated keyboards and it work very well. It isn’t breaking any new ground, but it makes me want to hear more. Better still is “The Last Leaves,” which showcases the Khors penchant for staging somber, melancholy, SIG:AR:TYR style riffing in the midst of blastery and aural chaos. The riff at 3:00 is Khors at the top of their game and the simple-as-hell solo at 3:20 is elegant in its simple but catchy minimalism.
While the title track is decent, it drags along in slow burn mode with only moments of partial ignition. Epic-length closer “The Only Time Will Take it Away” (ESL point deduction) is more in keeping with classic Khors and packs a buttload of emotion and epic black riffing into a rambling but enthralling journey. There’s mournful trem-riffing, melodic trem-riffing, angry trem-riffing; its all here! The song structure is classic black metal but expanded in interesting ways to allow the riffing plenty of room to breath and reach the maximum hook factor. All the while, Helg uncorks a plethora of bestial black rasps and unchristian death roars. The keyboards are used sparingly and only for subtle accents instead of overblown pomp. This is the stuff I want to hear from these chaps.
As this album is the first with new guitarist Jurgis, I suppose they can be forgiven for having fewer of the locked in, hook-heavy riffs than the last album had. He and Helg do manage to bring the goods though and there’s plenty of interesting trem-based riffery, but there are also more moments of pedestrian blackened leads as well. As a vocalist, Helg sounds as good as ever and I have no issues with his performance. Overall, I just don’t think the material is as good this time out, and there really isn’t a lot here material-wise to dig into.
And there’s the major rub for Steel Druhm. If you release a full length album and it’s actually only four real songs and four short instrumentals, you actually haven’t released a full length. I’m certainly not in the camp advocating a twelve song album clocking in at 75 minutes, but this thing feels mighty skinny. The instrumentals, as nice and fine as they are, aren’t what I’m looking for from Khors. I simply want more Khors. This album doesn’t leave me feeling like I got enough of the high-level Khors banquet blackness, despite three out of four songs being high quality.
So, this feels like a short, tide over release instead of a righteous follow-up to a superb album (if you haven’t realized you should check out Return to Abandoned by now, check your pulse). I like some of it quite a bit, but there’s just not enough meat on dem dere bones. It’s bad enough I expected a Big Mac and got a McNugget, but if I have to wait two years for another dose of Khors, expect a highly cranky Steel Druhm venting, whining and carping his way across the blogosphere. Lord help us all.