Like most of my peers, I try to spread out my metal listening; variety being the spice of life and all that. Despite this, however, I frequently find myself short on new black metal. Instead, I return to old standbys; kvlt, traditional and the bravely exotic. Unfortunately, the promo sump is rarely a good way to fix this problem, as so few black metal bands are interested in innovating. This is particularly true at the offices of our friends at Iron Bonehead, an establishment where ingenuity isn’t welcome. Still, Australian studio-project Runespell‘s sophomore release—Order of Vengeance—is at least less baffling than the last Australian black metal act I covered, pulling firmly from the Norwegian second wave with smatterings of other scenes and styles to keep things from growing stale.
Opener “Retribution in Iron” lays out the template for this album’s sound, which is mostly lots of Burzum and mid-period Bathory with Cascadian flourishes, wrapped in a shockingly convincing “we stuffed our speakers with cotton and styrofoam pellets” Burzum-esque lo-fi production that belies significantly better quality. Most of the better tracks, like “Retribution,” “Wolf.Axis,” and closer “Pray for Redemption – Redemption” follow this template: weaving familiar melodic riffs over a strong, thrumming baseline and chaotic drum fills. “Retribution” features a lovely sequence of tastefully brain-clenching twin guitar counterpoint melodies, while “Wolf.Axis” plays host to a delightfully hooky bit of winding, sinuous guitar melody over a tremolo backdrop. Conversely, “Night’s Gate” opts for the classic homage to/ripoff of “One Rode to Asa Bay,” while “Destiny over Discord” revels in Cascadian-isms in the mold of Agalloch and (to a lesser extent) Panopticon.
This lack of originality doesn’t hurt the project, exactly—this style is obviously overdone—but I find it difficult to fault a songwriter for following his instincts. Unfortunately, there are other compositional problems that seriously dog the effort. The riff-craft on display here suffers badly from a lack of memorable hooks or riffs, causing Order of Vengeance to drift by, fading into the background. The song “Claws of Fate” is hit particularly hard by this, while “Retribution,” despite displaying a large slice of the album’s memorable riffs, suffers from a serious over-repetition problem, exacerbated by a bloated 11-minute run-time. Other tracks see similar, if lesser, issues that lend the impression that Runespell‘s sole member—Nightwolf—couldn’t bring enough ideas to the table without unnecessary repetition. Worse, despite its titanic bass riff, “Blood Martyr” fails to impress or embed in the brain in any way, serving to kill what momentum the album built before that penultimate track.
On a more positive note, the production on Order of Vegeance is fantastic, with lush, purring basslines girding every song to let the guitar work its magic. Some of the guitar tones could have been less sharp, and Nightwolf’s screams and shrieks range between workmanlike and tolerable, but the mix gives all the components of each song excellent space inside a cavernous atmosphere, aided by a fairly spacious master (except, oddly, on “Night’s Gate” which clocks at DR6). Order of Vengeance is not a great or consistent record, but it is a decent one, albeit not one I’m likely to return to more than sporadically; as black metal goes, it’s simply too pedestrian. However, if you like Nordic-sounding black metal that ranges between kvltish traditionalism and Cascadian atmosphere, give this a shot.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Website: Too kvlt for computers
Releases Worldwide: July 6th, 2018