Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dark Funeral - In The Sign Of...

Dark Funeral - In The Sign Of...
1994 (originally), 2001 (re-release), Necropolis Records

Here it is then, this prototypical, subgenre-defining slice of violent, professionally produced Swedish black metal, the EP which was both an announcement of this band's entry into the scene as well as an essential document (along with 1996's 'The Secrets of the Black Arts') of that sound, the clean, no-frills, hyperspeed version of black metal which I have to come to absolutely loathe in the years after this record's release. This is an essential document/recording, however, because it has influenced so many bands - hundreds upon hundreds, one is led to believe.

And truth be told, it's not that bad, not at all. It doesn't really say anything new, but it provided an avenue (or opened a path) for bands who wanted a more sparkling and fresh alternative from the realm of the necro, and so many bands have gone down that path now that it seems like Dark Funeral hit upon something new themselves: that black metal could be 'professional', it could be well-produced, one could hear all the instruments on the recording, and the entire tone of a band's release could be geared towards an audience that was used to the sound of Swedish death metal releases...

The music is not iconoclastic, and in my ears it seems routine, almost trite and reticent in its unwillingness to incorporate anything creative...but one also has to remember that it was 1994 when this came out, and the black metal scene at that time was undergoing a cataclysmic series of changes...many bands were turning towards more 'commercial' sounds, if not in the music itself then in their production values. Besides, this band has never really been about originality...

Much like their close competitors and fellow pillars of the Swedish scene, Marduk, this band makes it extremely difficult to hear differences between their songs..after a while it just all tends to blend together, and the production, with its vanilla wafer, sterile aesthetics, does not help matters. But if you listen close enough, the differences are there...I mean: there is a lot of music that speeds past the consciousness, buried under the squeaky clean guitar sound...

Ultimately this is just extremely listenable, it goes down easy, without really snagging on any of one's biases or preconceptions, and in that capacity one would think it had the ability to draw disparate segments of the scene together. Didn't it, after all? Who really hates Dark Funeral? Who has ever been offended by Dark Funeral?
For me, now, this re-release is interesting mainly because it pits the production sounds of the two largest/most well-known Swedish studios and producers against each other...with the EP proper, it is Swano and Unisound (I blame Swano for the 'clean' sound in black metal production circles, may he be damned) and with the bonus tracks included on this disc (two Bathory covers) it is Tagtgren and the Abyss studios, the recordings being done in '94 and '96, respectively. As so, once again this record, in its re-release, becomes indicative of the larger musical movements within Sweden. From Unisound to the Abyss - that was the progression, wasn't it?

I will say that the Bathory covers done here ('Equimanthorn' - yes, one of the most 'influential' black metal songs of all time - and 'Call From The Grave', both from 'Under the Sign of the Black Mark') are excellent, really top-notch and professional in their planning, playing and recording. 'Call From The Grave' is especially good...when it comes down to the moving solo in the latter part of the song, the theme/progression of which is based on a popular funeral air, the playing is focused and tight, and done with obvious respect. Inspiring.

Other noteworthy bonuses in the re-release: the great new cover art, done by Necrolord, of Levi's enthroned Baphomet, in purple, black, and white tones (I would love to have a poster of this), and the pictures in the lyric booklet, which are supposedly from Dark Funeral's 'personal collection'. Interesting...

So, in any case, you know what this album is, you know if you want it...I would suggest at least picking it up and listening to it if you are unaware of this band's history, or the tremendous impact they have had on European black metal...