“No website. No MySpace. No gods, no masters,” claims the press release for the third album by Minnesota black metalers Azrael. Yes, kids, these dudes are cult, or kvlt if you prefer, right down to the typically grim (AKA “poorly lit”) album cover and unreadable band logo. Unlike other members of the flourishing US black metal scene, such as Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Nachtmystium, Azrael obviously isn’t looking for any crossover success whatsoever, merrily (in its own misanthropic way) catering to the scenesters, keeping all the accoutrements, both musical and visual, as “true” as possible. Which is a bit of a shame, actually, because while this sprawling double album faithfully adheres to the black metal formula, there are signs that this duo has enough talent to branch out to a slightly larger audience, if they so desire. The production is excellent, by underground black metal standards; the swirling arrangements of guitars, bass, and drums underscored by gentle touches of acoustic guitar and bowed double bass, often resembling the sedate sounds of Agalloch and Ulver. In fact, when guitarist/vocalist Lord Samaiza shuts his face-painted yapper, this album is downright gorgeous at times, evident on such tracks as “Writhing”, “Diminished”, and “Beyond the Crypt”. However, at 128 brain-numbing minutes, we soon grow weary of all the darkness, suffering from a musical version of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and wish this obviously talented band had trimmed this bloated opus of an hour’s worth of fat.
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