Like many of you, I respect the hardworking artists of the underground. Guys with main bands, side-projects, and loads of guest appearances. Black metal, in particular, is a genre full of artists like this. Shatraug is one. To the casual Finnish black metal fan, Shatraug is the guitarist1 for the mighty Horna. To others, he’s the man behind Gandr, Mortualia, and Necroslut, as well as guitarist for Hoath and Doedsvangr. And that only scratches the surface. The other band you might know Shatraug from is Sargeist. And their newest release, Unbound, might be their best to date.
Clickbait is fun. But, seriously, I haven’t stopped listening to Unbound since I bought it in October.2 Satanic Black Devotion was nothing more than classic Scandinavian black metal topped with Shatraug’s unforgettable screams. Then Shatraug’s creativity blossomed with Disciple of the Heinous Path and Let the Devil In. The latter being the band’s pinnacle. Then Feeding the Crawling Shadows dropped and so did my enthusiasm. It didn’t disappoint ole Grier but it appeared to be the start of a decline. Oh, ye3 o’ little faith. Shatraug is back with some of the best material he’s written in years and an album of endless punishment, yet with a smooth finish.
Opener “Psychosis Incarnate” is the punishment—ransacking and ravaging all in its path. Its relentless chaoticism never ceases, despite the depressing melodies. The former inhaling and the latter exhaling deep in the belly of Unbound. Within that belly are other aggressive numbers, like “Death’s Empath” and “Her Mouth is an Open Grave.” “Death’s Empath” is the closest thing to “groove” the band has done since Let the Devil In and the black/death riffs/vocals of “Her Mouth is an Open Grave” is an orchestral march to Hell.
And, as expected, there are also devastating pieces, like “Unbound,” “Hunting Eyes,” and “The Bosom of Wisdom and Madness.” “Unbound” has all that Swedish meloblack that make bands like Watain and Dissection mainstays for so many. But “Unbound” delivers the goods better than most of its modern contemporaries—shattering your heart, and follow-up tracks, “Blessing of the Fire-Bearer” and “Wake of the Compassionate,” never allow it to recover. But, of all the depressing pieces, the most hopeless and most stark would have to be “The Bosom of Wisdom and Madness.” “Hunting Eyes,” though, takes things in a different direction—combining all the things I love about Horna, Sargeist, and Infernus-led Gorgoroth. It has depth, it has range, and it’ll suffocate you to death.
As Unbound progresses, you succumb more to the depressive, melodic atmospheres within it. The entire record might reek of comforting loss and swaddling death, but the first half is much more “alive” than the second. As we progress from the opener to “Hunting Eyes” and “Unbound” to “Grail of the Pilgrim,” the feeling of loss becomes real. Unbound is the perfect Sargeist album and its mixture of pain, power, and passion are not matched by another black metal release this year.
Tracks to Check Out: “Hunting Eyes,” “The Bosom of Wisdom and Madness,” and “Her Mouth is an Open Grave”