posted on 1/2010 By:
Those who know me know that it's a rare black metal record that I enjoy these days, but there was a time when icy blackness didn’t leave me cold. Like most everyone else with ears and taste, I was (and am) enamored of the likes of the old guard, of Emperor and of (most) Darkthrone. When it comes to blackness, although there are always exceptions, I tend to find the Dimmu symphonic type to be pompous in a bad way; I have only a clinical musicological interest in woodland trollery and folky paganism; I dislike scratchy lo-fi wrist-slittings as much as those who create them hate me and everything else under the abominable sun. So post-1997ish, it’s been an increasingly rare black metal record that I’ve enjoyed, but I enjoyed Ikonoklast. Why, you may ask? Well, because it’s Scandinavian black metal without pretense (or rather, without unnecessary pretense). I like it largely because it sounds like the records that I enjoy by the bands I like, those 90's Norwegian endeavors that (re)defined black.
Why Urgehal sounds like those bands is neither a secret nor a shock, of course. They’re Norwegian; they’re black metal; they formed in 1992. They sound like a 90's Scandinavian black metal band very simply because they are one. And unlike their peers, they haven’t moved on, broken up, broken down, evolved, devolved, whatever.
As would be expected, Ikonoklast feels cold, but its production is shiny and stout (and thankfully better than "necro"). The guitars are sharp and robust; the drums sound great, and session drummer Erik Renton is savvy enough to temper his blastbeats with enough groovy, thrashier moments to keep things from becoming one-dimensional. The bass guitar is both audible and crisp—its tone whilst carrying the main riff of "Kniven Rider Dypt I Natt" is brilliant. Musically, Ikonoklast exhibits a hefty death metal influence, smattered across the Satyricon / Darkthrone blueprint of icy tremolo picking, chorded riffs heavily indebted to Celtic Frost, blastbeats bookending the occasional slower passages, and rasped vocals. Guitarist Enzifer regrettably abandoned his previous (and much awesomer) moniker of "Mr. Triggerhappy Lepermessiah," but he can still craft some killer riffs, as tracks like "Cut Their Tongue Shut Their Prayer" and "Approaching Doom" can attest. Thematically, the band’s trademark Satanic imagery is intact, albeit not as overt or aggressive as on earlier records.
Although generally overlooked when compared to their legendary scene-mates in Emperor, Mayhem, Satyricon, et al, Urgehal deserves credit for continuing this long and still going this strong. In a day when black metal’s stylistic traits have diverged into multiple sub-styles and when one must qualify blackness with the likes of "atmospheric," "suicidal," or "psychedelic," here we have a record that is content to be nothing more than black and well-done. Those who demand of their black metallers some kind of departure from last decade’s norm could argue this to be redundant, unnecessary when compared to the classics. But for those who want their good old godforsaken black metal to sound good and old and black and godforsaken, Ikonoklast is certainly a worthy investment.
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