2001, Moribund (earlier release, now being reissued)
To say this album was a surprise to me would be something of an understatement - not a unduly large one, to be sure, but there still was that element of pleasing novelty about this, coming from a band I had pretty much completely written off after trying (and utterly failing) to understand their latest work, 'The Complex Bewitchment', with its laughable cover artwork...which I know was not the fault or mistake of the band, Napalm being one of those record labels that plans those things out themselves, and seems to make decisions regardless of the group's priorities or desires. So, to continue, after laughing Mactätus's newest album to scorn, disliking both its lyrical and musical messages, and bemoaning the utter lack of true creativity shown there, I couldn't help but approach this, their first album, which something approaching trepidation...or maybe a certain wariness.
Luckily, my suspicions were proven unwarranted, as this is, on the whole, a very capable record, highlighting an approach to black metal that I would place, in the entire spectrum of that genre's evolution, right around '95 or '96 (it was actually recorded in '96 and '97) in terms of what their fellow Norsemen were doing. It isn't too raw or bombastic, neither too well-polished or aggressively unformed, and it isn't sworn to the black to the point of disgorging repetition and stale throwbacks to yesteryear, instead of trying to branch out into something new. All of the music here, though, shows a certain amount of polish and ready formulation, and the songwriter's hand is evident in the sure structures. Although greatly influenced by early Dimmu Borgir [it's obvious], for a group's first album it shows a respectable level of experimentation, and also an undeniable grasp of the melodic potential inherent within the genre. As the album progresses, it tends to become more and more melodic, you could say, replacing dissonant elements with harmonic structures, and I believe, looking at this band's career in hindsight, that this album traced out, very cleanly, Mactätus's entire path or journeying road of musical evolution - as a thumbnail sketch, something to be expanded upon.
Hints of their influences can be found - for example in the first song, 'Black Poetry', which reminds me of Satyricon's 'Shadowthrone' - but for the most part I believe this style of music affords its adherents enough room to maneuver creatively without rubbing shoulders all that often. While Mactätus may not be the most original band, they are talented musicians and their grasp of their material, its melodic powers and abilities, and their place in the entire black metal movement are all very firmly based. There isn't anything completely out-of-sorts here, being either awkwardly placed or importunely thrust upon your ear: nothing out of season, or out of place. It all flows together well - so well, in fact, that I have listened to this album about twenty times in the week or so that I've owned it. The truth is that I like this record a lot. While this may not be the most aggressive material - the band seems rather inclined towards the elegiac and epic rather than violent - I really can't complain. Or, I should say, I really don't want to complain, I want to exhort this band to go back to writing material like this. There are just simply all kinds of different black metal (and have been for a long time) and this is a great example of a style that never really rose to prominence within the scene, although it is one of my favorites: dark, melancholy, wistful, and absolutely evocative. If you are in any way attracted to lyrical, elegant, or morose black metal, and need at times a change of pace from the constant warcry of most of the scene's stalwart mainstays, you would do very well in at least listening to this album and seeing if you can take something away from it...
The first four songs are all very similar in motivation and tend to demurely share their stylistic goals as a whole. The fifth represents a complete break - it is an instrumental/key piece - and then we move into something of a more 'serene' setting, with the last song, 'Hat og Kulde', being probably the best selection on the entire album, both in terms of its compositional/structural dynamics and its melodic power, spinning itself through at least two riffs that I find particularly enchanting. The only problem with this is a certain feeling that all of this material carries for me, and I'm not sure if it's a result of the music itself, the way it is presented (meaning: the general tone of the production), or some strange subconcious bias on my part, as I just can't seem to embrace this band completely. Mactätus's particular strength, I'm thinking, is their homogeneity, their innate sense of balance and proportion, and while that allows them to write very well constructed songs and to always maintain a sense of panache, sort of like the Steely Dan of black metal, it also makes things seem just a little too artificial at times: just a little too perfect, resulting in emotions being displayed or proffered that sound forced. Sadly, they seem to have now taken this ability of theirs (their professionalism and sense of balance) to the point of absurdity, as their newest material is so well thought-out and immaculate it ends up being boring...where is the passion, the unbridled hatred or anger or sadness that escapes all the efforts of the cerebrum to restrain it, and bleeds forth in the music?
However, I still think this is an excellent album, and I need to listen to their second work now, as it escaped my attention the first time around. Who knows what the future will bring for this band? Perhaps a return to this earlier style...
Recommended, if only at times for the last song.