Welcome, AMG Readership, to our sanguinary sect of worship. Feel at home in our black conventicle as we anathematize all of those who oppose us. Don’t summon the Devil, don’t call the priest. If you need the strength, then conjure Germany’s Schafott, whose debut album, The Black Flame, is set to smolder the soul with classic blackened thrash. Eschewing the norm, Schafott aren’t a band content to only dabble in the rough riffage of Venom and Bathory but have also greedily delved into traditional metal as a salient conduit for these umbra orchestrations. Armed with a collection of disturbingly delicious Satan prayers, The Black Flame is rife with enough ripping rhythms to turn 1986 green with envy.
What Schafott champions, above all else, is thrash. The integrity of the material’s structure owes a musical debt to the proto-black metal stylings of early Kreator and Slayer just as much, if not more than the usual Hellhammer worship. While I’m no Mark Z, I love black-thrash and having blindly cast the promo runes, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Black Flame pulsing with an urge to conduct black metal’s thematics, not through fuzzed-out brutish guitar lines, but through the spectrum of a well-engineered riff. After a brief intro, “Ostara” ignites the record and the thrash influences soon become clear. Guitarists, Molester and Wraith’s rhythms borrow the same pervasive tone that made Hell Awaits such a morbid classic, before breaking into an almost neo-classical lead. Darkly harmonic chord-progressions occasionally dance amidst the verses and it’s soon apparent that Watain‘s brand of lawless black metal is what informs Schafott‘s Luciferian leanings.
The title track tears through a perpetuation of sandblast thrashing and taught bass, while “Azazael’s Dream” rolls the dice for an array of tempos, deliberate in its first quarter before re-launching into full faculty. The leads cast over the precise riffing writhe with melody whilst never overstaying their welcome, laboring to highlight the transitioning riff work with the occasional Maiden-esque twin harmony. “Total Cleansing” ups the ante further with complimentary gallops and a clear nod to the Iron institution in the song’s overtly harmonized rhythms. As is the nature of the beast, save for the classic speed metal tropes occasionally cast into the cauldron, The Black Flame doesn’t feature a lot of variation. Although the album’s entirety maintains its high standard, some of the cuts, despite their impact, do overrun, and so, in turn, does the album. Although I can understand Schafott‘s willingness to buck the genre trend and deliver less rabid, yet more focused material, by the time I come to the penultimate and bloated “Sow the Salt,” I’m eyeing the record’s finish. Fortunately, closer, “Satan’s Throne,” is one of the album’s better songs with a clear, neck-wrecking end in sight.
Schafott haven’t skipped a beat on the production. Sounding every bit as analogue as their obvious peers, The Black Flame wouldn’t be out of place sharing shelf space with your favorite 80’s output. The mix makes a point of showcasing Nemesis’ bass lines and dutifully never multi-layers the guitars. The organics don’t stop there, though, as vocalist and skinsman, Assassor’s frenetic drumming is as retro as possible — the enjoyment of which will come down, in no small part, to individual taste, but by comparison, closely echo the hollow snare sound Ventor weaponized on Pleasure to Kill. Although his harsh rasps don’t add much individualism, Assassor tears through each track with plenty of savage abandon, his exuberance on the shout along chorus of “By the Lust of the Witch” clear for all the coven to hear.
Coming into this review, I had no prior experience with Schafott and thus The Black Flame was a fine surprise, scratching an itch I wasn’t even aware I had. Deliberately retreading old ground, Schafott have proven that quality will always out, despite the burgeoning ranks of thrash and its blackened progeny. This isn’t a defining or even redefining sound, and nor is it intended to be; this is thrash metal with enough occult identity to summon the dead before blazing them alight with hell-riffs of yore. Purveyors of metal’s more modern aesthetic might not mine too deeply here, but fans of Hellripper will surely find something to indulge and indulge you must — The Dark Lord demands it, and you’re not better than Satan. Obey!