Heritage Of Satan
posted on 10/2011 By:
The career of the Czech Republic’s long-running black metal weirdos Root has experienced both the benefit and detriment of odd timing. Having missed the first wave of black metal (Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, early Mayhem, the sloppy early assaults from Sarcofago, Sodom, Destruction, and so forth) by just a few years, when Root’s debut album Zjevení (later Anglicized and released as The Revelation) dropped in 1990, they were somewhat without peer (save fellow Czechs Master’s Hammer, whose debut was released in 1991) and thus often go mostly unheralded. And since the nucleus of the Norwegian scene arguably wouldn’t really solidify its sound until 1991 or 1992 (Darkthrone was still playing death metal in 1991, and even Immortal’s first album in 1992 was in many ways a pissed-up first-wave homage), Root just missed the fevered atmosphere of the second wave. Thus, despite clear precedents and antecedents, Root cranked along in its own world. Rather than relinquishing them to an historical oddity, though, this brief survey is intended to suggest that Root’s awkward timing may have allowed them greater freedom (or simple necessity) to carve out their own pioneering style of bizarre, shamanistic black metal. What all of this means is that, at least for this writer, Root can get away with a certain level of silliness that would never be tolerated in any other band. Seniority has its benefits.
Fast forward to 2011. Following the departure of longtime guitarist Petr "Blackie" Hošek in 2004, things looked a bit uncertain at Camp Root. The first post-Blackie album, 2007’s Daemon Viam Invenient, was a scattershot mess that suffered from fairly horrendous production and awkward, repetitive songwriting. For the longtime Root fan, then, Heritage of Satan has got an awful lot to prove, and while it improves significantly on the failings of the previous album, it is far from an unalloyed success. The five-and-a-half minute spoken word and hackneyed spooky noise intro is hardly a promising start, either. Once into the meat of the album, plenty of the songs are devilishly (har har) catchy, but at times that infectiousness borders on irritating, especially on “Legacy of Ancestors” and “Revenge of Hell.” It also doesn’t help matters that the main riff on “Revenge of Hell” is several shades too aggro for comfort.
Most of the songs are relatively midpaced, with only a few brief excursions into blasting and several digressions into thrashy, staccato thickness. In fact, it isn’t until the fifth track, “Darksome Prophet,” that Heritage of Satan really kicks up the intensity to a truly satisfying level. Thankfully, from there on things ride a dramatic upswing, with “Greetings from the Abyss” finding the band in straight-ahead, blackly aggressive territory, and “His Coming” (the clear album highlight) delving into fantastically dirge-y Triptykon depths while featuring Big Boss performing at least a six-part choir with himself. Truth be told, the actual music tends sharply to the rudimentary, meaning that, as always, one’s appreciation of this incarnation of Root will depend almost entirely on one’s appreciation of the fiercely charismatic baritone of Big Boss. Boss’s vocals are in fairly brilliant form throughout the album, which has the unfortunate effect of provoking much hand-wringing and wistful longing for a more interesting musical canvas on which to array his seemingly bottomless toolbox of vocal styles and effects.
One of the most drastic improvements since Daemon is in the production, which throughout Heritage of Satan is absolutely beautiful. The sound is thick and luscious, with each aspect perfectly balanced (pay particular attention to the way the rich bass tone luxuriously digs for the cellar). Root circa 2011 seems to have landed itself in something of a middle ground between the sterner, more aggressive black metal of its early career and the sprawling, brilliant dark experimental streak of their finest records (particularly The Book and Black Seal). As it stands, this middle ground is mostly an uncomfortable one, with this particular listener left wanting to give the band a swift kick in the ass toward one pole or the other. Nevertheless, given that Heritage of Satan is appreciably better than its head-scratchingly lackluster predecessor, it remains a distinct possibility that a continued upward trajectory could make a cozy home in this in-between. Let’s keep some faith in these old dogs of war.
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