Svartelder’s debut, Pyres, is reminiscent of why “true Norwegian black metal” has disappeared. Neither a new Behexen nor an Arctic Thunder will revive that particular old flame, but Svartelder will try anything to breathe life into Pyres. Oddly, the quartet’s malevolent grace can jolt “Devil of the Flesh” into life as fast as they’ll slow to trundle through kraut-imbued heavy rock. Pyres quickly grows weary, but if you’re thirsty for black metal—and why should you be with last year’s bounty—you could certainly do worse than Pyres.
Per the Encyclopaedia Metallum, Svartelder was plucked from somewhere in Norway but claims to be from Indre Arna most specifically—a settlement in Bergen, the now-defunct black metal capital. The quartet’s four pseudonyms are Kobold, AK-47, Maletoth, and Doedsadmiral. The band describes the lineup as, “Aside from founder and frontman Doedsadmiral, Svartelder’s lineup comprises of Maletoth on bass and guitars, AK-47 on drums, and Kobold on keys.”
Doedsadmiral appears to be the leader (painted up like Hoest on Taake’s Kulde), having created Svartelder in 2005, which lay fallow until 2010 with the addition Maletoth. You’d think that the most recent members, Kobold and AK-47, were taken on to bulk up the sound. Here are some true black metal veterans of stadium-proportioned kvlt (with some death and industrial metal trifles).
Svartelder are a minor super group. Kobold, AK-47, Maletoth, and Doedsadmiral have done time in seminal and lesser bands alike, such as Carpathian Forest, Old Forest, In the Woods…, etc. And Svartelder isn’t Doedsadmiral’s first time starting a band of warhorses. He still has Doedsvonger, which includes members of Horna, Tsjuder, and Behexen. What’s Doedsadmiral’s beguile? He has entranced a bunch of stalwart metal heads to join his mission, but how different is Pyres than Carpathian Forest’s last Fuck You All!!! Caput Tuum In Ano Est?
Pyres, at first glance, looks pretty convincing—a surrealistic execution replaces the archetypal, monochromatic winter wastes of second wave black metal. Khaos Diktator is the artist, a member of Horna and Nordjevel (of which Doedsadmiral is also a member), painted his vision of Styx. Pyres‘s cover artwork absolutely displays some talent: a crow cawing from a decapitated neck in immediate slice, holding a skull atop a bone boat. Khaos Diktator’s visual incantation kicks of Pyres.
For black metal, whether the music is pristine or aural scrim is to be expected, and with Svartelder, there is a clear preference for black metal that’s more heavy metal. Pyres is polished and clean. The maiden, “Guds Helvete,” invokes a guitar tone that the Black Twilight Circle’s Volahn applies brilliantly: reverb-soaked light waves that hark back to a classical plucking. That’s totally undermined by Svartelder’s trite cavalcade—the trio of guitar, bass, and drums apply an introduction borrowed from Watain. Kobold, the pianist, saves the track with a ponderous bridge, and Svartelder tramps into the rest of the album. “Guds Helvete” demonstrates some borrowed ideas played with studied tact.
Svartelder go tripping through a mixed bag here. Adding a twofer always seems the centerpiece of a record, as with “Stygian Macrocosmos Pt. I” and its secondary chapter, which divides Pyres in half. Like “Guds Helvete,” Svartelder sidestep a malevolent introduction to hammer out a plod. “Pt. I” is an almost four-minute-long breakdown that slows further still on “Pt. II.” The pace is to be expected for a bit of meditation, but Pyres often sounds like a cage of Svartelder’s own design.
All the while, Doedsadmiral croaks, shrieks, even prattles in a state that’s been taken over by Cultes des Ghoules. Still, he demonstrates an impressive range, like the two seven-minute tracks “Realm of Breathing Eyes” and “Ingen vet jeg var…” that bookend the two-chapter core.
Let’s take “Realm of Breathing Eyes” as Pyres’s peak. Here, a thunder crack introduces Svartelder’s duality. The flurry of Sodom riffs pushes the song into a dogged ascent of nimble hooks to the sleety heights of Paysage d’Hiver, or, more recently, Panphage’s Ginnheilagr. On “Realm of Breathing Eyes,” the band loosens its two melodies—infernal and wintry—and plays variations on the latter propped up by the former. Svartelder maintains their energy on “Realm of Breathing Eyes,” leaping interchangeably from two disparate forms of black metal.
Svartelder is going through the motions on Pyres. The album aces the past masters—whether it be Windir or Tormentor—but too often, the quartet’s borrowings are lackluster. Svartelder’s practiced hands can whisk Pyres up, but like a paper airplane, it quickly falls to the ground. Is this the best of contemporary “true Norwegian black metal”? For Svartelder, Pyres is only, at best, a start.
01) Guds Helvete
02) Ingen vet jeg var…
03) Stygian Macrocosmos Pt. I
04) Stygian Macrocosmos Pt. II
05) Realm of Breathing Eyes
06) Devil of the Flesh