Saturday, May 15, 2010

Armagedda - The Final War Approaching

Armagedda - The Final War Approaching
2002, Breath of Night/Merciless Records

It's rare to hear black metal like this these days, and there is even less of a chance to hear it arising from a country like Sweden, whose black scene, I thought, had signed over their creative birthright years ago to the imps of Dark Funeral's sound. Armagedda is primarily a very traditional black metal band, so you shouldn't be surprised if I start pulling names like Bathory, Darkthrone, etc. out of nowhere, even though the elements that they take from those bands are now so old and antiquated that I doubt many will understand what I'm referring to...this isn't the Darkthrone of yesterday that I'm talking about, it's 'Unholy Black Metal' matched with tastes of Satyricon's first album, the thin, treble guitar of Rob Darken and most of the rest of the Polish movement (it really makes me think of Gontyna Kry, actually), a vocal attack that tempts me to use words like 'bestial' and 'monstrous' even though I know better: a harsh wailing and raw-throated screaming bursting out over the rest of the music in ritualistic patterns, quite similar to early Judas Iscariot or Sarcophagus...in other words, a very, very unoriginal, stereotypical sound overall. However, I know that Akhenaten's main pursuit in founding a label and searching for bands to feature on it is not to construct some kind of genre-defying roster that will be pushing music into new realms...what he mainly seems to be doing in finding bands - much like his own, Judas Iscariot - that have tapped into the primal spirit of black metal, that sound of Norway circa the early '90s, and which would rather create good albums in that tradition rather than give in to the 'progressive' tendencies of the current scene. So they are reactionary, these bands, as they look to the past as being the measure of what is good and worth reaching towards, but this aim or main focus isn't something I would censure. Black metal has died, that we know...especially in those countries where it formerly found so much energy and dark inspiration, and you can't blame these bands for trying to resurrect something that means so much to them. If you take Armagedda's music in this way, as being constructed around elements that are tried, true, and timeless, this is a worthy addition to those slices of grim darkness which possessed our souls almost a decade ago - it fits in with the rest of those genre-defining albums. When I listen to this group, Armagedda, I am not exactly moved to think of the future of this genre in positive terms - usually the re-creation of what has come before, nostalgia, is a main sign of the ending decadence of a movement, but I think this group (and the others on this label) would certainly argue this: maybe they would say they are just trying to stick very close to what they consider to be the 'pure' sounds of the genre, the characteristics that make black metal effective and really worth listening to...

Throughout the stretch of this album Armagedda are able to come up with some really stirring, epic riffing, a style and tone that mixes the nostalgia I mentioned above with either midpaced structural melodies that allow for lucid dreaming of battlefields and windswept mountain landscapes, lightless forests and frozen streams, a glint and glimmer of ice-cold steel, marching, galloping rhythms of war interlaced with melancholy arpeggios and echoing, ringing full chords, or fast-strummed progressions flying like ravens over these same places of battle, as harbingers or carriers of death...there is a noticeable thin quality in the guitar sound, but that is because I believe this material was tracked in one take (it certainly sounds that way) with minimal overdubs or corrections, if any, and it sounds like there is only one guitarist in this band, even though the line-up says they have two. The production quality on this recording differs from song to song...it's strange, which makes me think either that they recorded it in different places at different times, or that this is CD is a collection of earlier works...

Anyway, this is traditional, simple, Darkthrone-influenced black metal, as I mentioned already, full of violent energy, and it certainly touches on the ancient spirit of the genre, capturing something that few groups can find anymore...from that you will probably know if you want to seek it out or not. Personally, I like a lot of the material on this disc, and I think Armagedda might really give us something worth keeping on their next release if they strengthen their style a little more and spend more time on balancing or filling out their guitar sound...especially if they experiment a bit and see if they can add in some personal elements to their backwards-looking aesthetics.

The main problem with these bands, or the pitfall they usually hit unawares, I think, is idea that there isn't anything original to be found in this kind of sound, this approach. Going back and referencing what has come before in the hope of creating a 'classic' album doesn't necessarily mean that one has to stay completely along the lines of what Norway produced - even with those bands there is a lot of room in the style which they never explored, as they left the necro for progressive material too soon, in my opinion.

In the meantime, this is a good album, a strong start for the band, and (I think) a more than adequate demonstration of this record label's staying power. I would recommend it mainly for those of you who are disappointed with the direction of the black metal scene over the last five or six years, and who would like to see a return to form on the part of the Europeans...