At its cold heart, black metal is supposed to be angry, dangerous, uncomfortable. And while the genre has broadened to include some generally more benign (and often very enjoyable) off-shoots of the originally evil vision, Misotheist, hailing from Trondheim in Norway, have arrived to remind us of how dark and malevolent black metal can be. The band, whose name means “Hatred of God,” combine the blasphemy of Batushka with the frozen hellscapes of Havukruunu, sprinkled with some dissonant elements of Deathspell Omega. Anonymous members playing evil music in black cloaks emphasize that the lush landscapes of some recent atmoblack albums are as absent as warmth on a Scandinavian midwinter day. When a band eschews any form of identification or context, it wants you to focus purely on the music at hand. So do the members succeed with their vicious, uncompromising vision?
Misotheist have embraced the “trve kvlt” lo-fi aesthetic, but here it unfortunately takes music that is already dense and dark and turns it frozen. The drumming, which should propel the songs forward, is completely neutered by the master which pushes it right to the back of the mix. The treble is also blurred and bereft of power, often making it difficult to differentiate from the loud riffing. What this means is that long stretches of songs often sound repetitive and lack the driving force of percussion to keep them interesting. On the upside, the tortured vocals, dredged from some vile sewer, are suitably harsh and compelling and give the songs a weight and heft missing from the other elements.
The length is also an issue. If an album is only 33 minutes long, then every moment needs to count. When they get it right, as on the first track, “Carriers of Captivity,” Misotheist is compelling and remorseless, with enough interesting ideas to keep the track thundering forward. Blast beats and thick guitars bleed into a dissonant and uncomfortable bridge before the melody returns to bring the proceedings to an end. The other two tracks, however, are less successful, with too much repetition of the core idea and not enough variety to justify their over-ten-minute lengths. The songs themselves are also too similar to each other in style and structure, particularly album closer “Blood of Rats,” which offers nothing new to what has come before. Pacing is also a problem: at one point, as an experiment, I played the songs in random order and noticed no discernible change to the flow of the album. This robs Misotheist of a palpable sense of climax.
The above make for a frustrating listen: there are plenty of great moments, such as the finale of “Beast and Soil,” when gorgeous guitars soar over the blast beats, and introduce a sense of tangible sadness to the unceasing anger which has preceded them. Parts like these are frightening and interesting, and hint at the potential of Misotheist, but they’re buried in a frustrating mix that robs them of the terrible power they’re aiming for. And when the song-writing lets the band down, the drone makes weak passages even more dull. The brick-walled production also means that the relatively brisk 33 minutes feel far more exhausting than they should. You can’t shake the feeling that Misotheist should either have been trimmed of some of its fat and made into a compelling EP or expanded with some more ideas to make for a more fulfilling LP.
There is a place for the brand of furious black metal that Misotheist plays: they harken back to the days when music like this was both dangerous and compelling. It’s clear what they’re aiming for, and the results are often remarkable. But the curious lo-fi production, and occasionally meandering song-writing just let them down too frequently. With some better song-writing and production, this could have been a glorious slab of traditional Scandinavian fare. Unfortunately, however, it is hard to recommend this to any but hardened black metal fans.