2002, Realms of Darkness/Dark Horizon Records
First let me say that the official title of this release is "Lead Us Into War And Final Glory" (all words are capitalized on the front of the CD), so the people behind this did pick a more imaginative title than "4-way split", although that is how you are probably going to hear this referred to most of the time. This release is, as you no doubt understand this far into the review, a split album between four different bands, including fifteen songs with just over sixty two minutes of material. I don't see the point of dallying any longer, so let's just get into the music.
First up we have British Columbia's Allfather, who appear on this disc with five songs and who get things started in a nice fashion with their style of blasting, Angelcorpse-tinged black death. Having never really heard that much from this band before, I can say that their material went down fairly smoothly with me, without causing major disruptions in my nervous system due to incongruous elements or left-of-center arrangements. Now, because this split is being referred to as a showcase of bands who do not necessarily all agree when it comes to aesthetic determinations regarding their own music, you must be prepared to understand that Allfather are not exactly the type of black metal they usually refer to themselves as, or as they are advertised to the underground. I mentioned Angelcorpse above, and I am sticking with that comparison because my limited experience with Canadian black/thrash bands has made me think - now and before - that most of them can be pointed to as derivative of Angelcorpse and entities such as Conqueror, Blasphemy, Sacramentary Abolishment, etc. without too much misunderstanding. I'm probably dead wrong. When I say that Allfather present a style here that I wasn't expecting or that I wasn't led to expect, it is just a polite way of saying that I was surprised, and that is usually a good thing these days. Allfather's material is short, sweet, heavily percussive, and labyrinthine - in the sense that it is constantly about-facing in towards itself, making references to its own twists and turns - and almost incessantly changing tempo, if not direction. What I like the most is the emphasis they place on the drumming (this will surely remind you of Angelcorpse) and the way that the bass guitar is turned way up in the mix, always gurgling and scraping in the center of the sound field. Short, self-involved circling riffs are thrust forward, tapped, spun around and molested, and then sink back into the general maelstrom. The songs roll forwards, scraping and disintegrating, losing pieces of themselves or picking up other segments - shards of sound - from the ground they traverse. Over all of this the vocalist, C. Klassen, spits and snarls what I can only assume must be confrontational lyrics, going by song titles like "With Glory Unbound" and "Ancestral Resurrection". Solid material, but I believe they might need a little work to differentiate themselves from other bands. If they don't want to do this, then I guess they're just fine and are probably right on track in their natural progression. Who can say for sure?
Next we have two lengthy songs from the Hungarian band Nebron, who appear here with what I think is definitely the best material on this release. The first, "Between Lies and Hypocrites" (I've been in that place many times, let me tell you), is (I'm hoping - looking towards anything they might release after this split) the new blueprint for their entire style: long, drawn-out dark melodies, little transition between constrasting tempos or song segments, rapid changes in riff choices and instrumentation (a part of "modern" black metal to the core - also the hallmark of "professionalism" in the scene), excellent drumming, and an absolutely epic, far-looking feel to the music which makes me think they must always play either staring into the night sky or gazing blindly towards the horizon. This is music to be played after midnight, preferably outside beneath the stars. The contrast between Allfather's claustrophobic density or lack of breathing space and the open, relaxed (yet intense at the same time - one of the secrets of "symphonic black metal"), melodically complex style of Nebron is immediately apparent, and surely just the pairing of these two bands make this split's declaration of offering a "selection" of styles a reality. Nebron has come a long, long way from their earlier (typical, status quo) album "The Message" (also on Dark Horizon Records) if we are to judge just from these two songs. The second track, "At The Pagan Aldumas Night" is a masterwork of atmosphere-building slow riff coalescence and tempo advancement, and I admire the way it moves along under its own volition towards a thematic goal that is not broached until somewhere near the end of the piece. The echoing lead tones near the five minute mark (that then resolve themselves as the intro to a longer solo) are the pinnacle of the entire song's development as they bring to a mesmerizing fruition the earlier boiling of song segments - all of them reaching upwards, higher and higher until the simple, entrancing melancholy of these few notes crystallizes the entire lightless world of the song's eight minutes. Impressive, stirring, epic black metal. After hearing these two songs I'm really eager to get ahold of their next album, when and if it's released.
Indiana's Hordes of the Lunar Eclipse appear next with their take on traditional black metal, checking in with three lengthy songs that revolve around hypnotizing guitar melodies that stretch themselves through several measures, subtly changing but always presenting a bold front with stirring fanfares and strong, anthemic fragments. On the first song, for example, "Within the Scathing Silence of the Withered Shadow Forest" (no, I'm not making that up, that's the actual title) the riffs always seem to come back towards a buzzing, slowly altering melody that pairs dissonant chords together in building an "ominous" inevitability in the proceedings, a main theme that is both morose and yet, at the same time, unapologetically aggressive. This song could have been half as long and it would have communicated the same amount of information - I'm guessing that they stretch it out for so long (ten and a half minutes, almost unbearably long for a black metal song) to capitalize on the trance-inducing qualities of its stubborn structure and most important riffs. Simple comparisons can be made to the group Fog, who also write long, seemingly epic songs, and who share members with this band. The second song "And Blood Became Snow" is completely different, as its title is not only less than half the length of the first song's, its playing time is less than half as long as well. Stylistically, it seems to be of a later date than the former, as there seems to be some sort of progression towards a more thrash-influenced, abrupt, stop-and-start (if not outright "technical") form of riffing and motif progression. It can be compared favorably to the tracks Allfather presents before it, as there are the same kinds of ideas here, but I can't help but feel Hordes... are a little more adept at putting those ideas down on tape, or a little more skilled at laying the jigsaw puzzle of riffs here into some kind of cohesive whole. The next song then will come as a complete surprise as the band changes their style once again, and present instead a traditional, storming, Darkthrone-referencing slice of darkness entitled "Infinite Frozen Bliss". Working from exquisitely simple riffs and a slow, Panzerfaust-like series of tempos, this almost brings the entire compilation to a grinding halt as the song shudders, collapses, and wheezes it way - slug-like, almost geriatric - towards a depressing conclusion. The song doesn't come towards a logical end so much as it just chews its own legs off after being caught in a bear-trap riff halfway through. Crippled, it falls face first to the floor and expires without an excess of drama. A very interesting blend of sounds and techniques from this band!
Finishing out the disc, we have the most primitive band of all four, Gnostic, whose contact address in the CD insert is the same as the label's, so I can't tell exactly where they're from (as you can tell, I put a lot of research into this review), although I know of a Gnostic from San Antonio, Texas. Gnostic check in here with five blasting, traditional, conservative (in the sense that they don't take any chances with their overall sound), extremely raw slices of evil worship, akin in some ways to the early versions of Black Witchery, and sharing stylistic ties with old Blasphemy, Beherit, etc. - in other words, this is corrosive, pounding, simplistic black metal with distorted vocals and lyrics that seem to revolve solely around methods of anti-Christian rebellion, either in terms of idealogy (perhaps that's too strong a word), imagery, sexual iconoclasm, religious dogma inversion, etc. Typical, again, and completely true to the nature of this kind of black metal's history. Speaking of San Antonio, it of course struck me how close this band is in many ways to the first forms of that city's most famous black metal band, Thornspawn (think the "Consecration..." demo), and I would certainly point to lines of influence if I knew exactly where and when this band originated! Having so little to go on in terms of biographical information, let me just describe the music a little more: the tracks from Gnostic stand out from all the others, first of all, because of their rougher production and the immense levels of distortion on all the instruments. Attacking, sharp bursts of rhythmic riffing are interlaced over charging drum patterns (loosely revolving around a blast) and appear harried underneath drowning howls and cries from the abyss. Stylistically, at this point in their evolution, there is very little to distinguish Gnostic from a death metal band other than the vocal style and the lack of palm-muting, as is usually the case with young black metal bands - especially ones from America. I'm not going to claim here that Gnostic have a very strong voice of their own, but I don't think that they really care about that either. These days an "original" approach is often frowned upon in the black metal scene because of the experience of many musicians over the past ten years who have watched formerly relevant bands "progress" or "evolve" themselves right into sterility. That's fine. All I ask for in a black metal assemblage these days is that they write good songs that effectively communicate the anger the musicans feel, or ones that allow the darkness inside them to flow unimpeded into my ears, recharging my own negativity. Walking the fine line between experimental inanity (groundlessness) and stylistic stagnation is dangerous for any band, but many of these underground black metal groups achieve their goals in this respect because of their respect, passionate intensity, and love for the genre. Gnostic seem to succeed in all of these areas, so I call their material worthwhile.
Of all the music on this disc, I think I can estimate that I will listen repeatedly to about seventy percent of it, and that seventy percent also makes me look forward to new material from these bands, which I'm thinking must be the ultimate goal of a release like this...my favorite will remain Nebron, because of their level of songwriting talent and the sheer class with which they assembled their tracks, but all of this is interesting, for whatever reason, and I recommend checking out this split if you haven't heard any of these bands before, or if you wish to support truly underground efforts at assembling solid, bankable releases: Dark Horizon and Realms of Darkness are both admirable grassroots organizations and should be given a helping hand as the American scene begins to mature.
Recommended, especially for the Nebron.