[27 February 2013]
The pioneers of the ‘90s second-wave black metal movement brought controversy, infernal shrieks, and lo-fi tremolo screeds in abundance, but black metal has since become a willful, disobedient progeny. It has mutated into countless differing strains, often to the bullet-belt twisting consternation of its fans. These days, you’ll find it crafting as many satanic odes as it does Arcadian suites. It undertakes endless experimental investigations and psychedelic expeditions, and gets grubby and surly in crusty squats as often as it sits and gazes at panoramic cityscapes.
However, for all its adventurism (and the whims of trends within metal plundering its best attributes) there are still innumerable bands like Norwegian four-piece Ragnarok to remind us of traditional black metal’s continuing potency and vigor. Ragnarok doesn’t go in for unconventional musings or arty reflections. Like all the band’s previous releases, its seventh full-length Malediction is strictly rooted in classic techniques and execution—it is Nordic mythology and anti-Christian vitriol wrapped in corpse-painted hellfire tidings.
Ragnarok’s history dates back to the mid-‘90s, and it’s been a revolving door of band members ever since. Drummer Jontho is the only one remaining from the original line-up that recorded 1995’s Nattferd, vocalist HansFyrste is the band’s fourth howler, and Malediction sees another new member in guitarist Bolverk. You might expect that turmoil to have crippled the band’s momentum—and it may well explain why Ragnarok is less prominent than many of its Norwegian brethren—but creatively, the band seems to thrive on chaos. Albums such as 2010’s Collectors of the King and 2002’s In Nomine Satanas are prime examples of archetypical black metal playing to its iniquitous strengths.
Malediction follows that same traditional black metal path, continuing Ragnarok’s honing of the sacrificial blade and remaining faithful to the savagery of similar acts such as Tsjuder, Marduk, Dark Funeral and 1349. Ragnarok doesn’t indulge in subtlety or sympathy, and Malediction‘s ten songs are built around unrelenting, sadistic ferociousness. From the blitzkrieg opening assault of “Blood of Saints” and “Demon in My View”, it’s all blast-beats atop blast-beats from Jontho, with Bolverk’s frosty guitars ringing with the required Norwegian rawness. HansFyrste’s voice sits right on the edge of fiendishly harsh coherence and blood-curdling incoherence throughout, while DezeptiCunt (yes, you read that right) pounds along with galloping bass, adding in disquieting backing vocals.
Malediction is utterly straightforward, providing fans with precisely what’s desired—solid songwriting and musicianship, and inhospitable melodies buried deep within. You get ghoulish mid-tempo riffing, sinister vocals and trampling percussion set around barbed passages that mix velocity with substantial venom. And, unlike more grandiose fare, the all-important nefariousness is delivered over and over again in rapid succession, without having to wade through long atmospheric passages. That’s what vintage black metal does best, and that’s precisely what Ragnarok provides.
However, although Malediction ceaselessly assails (and there’s nothing understated about the surge and sinfulness of tracks such as “Divide et Impera” and “Fade into Obscurity”) that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of nuance. It’s all unrelentingly diabolic and antagonistic, but the tunes with nasty snags—such as the rousing harmonic intro to “Necromantic Summoning Ritual”—show there’s more than one way to shove malevolence down your throat. “Dystocratic” and “The Elevenfold Seal” feature fantastic paralleling drum and guitar battles, and “(Dolce et Decorum Est) Pro Patria Mori” is four minutes of catchy, skull-battering evil.
Ragnarok shows plenty of acumen in its animosity, and that’s helped enormously by Malediction being the best produced of the band’s career thus far. Buzzing with coarseness, the production highlights the individual performances and serpentine riffing with a clarity that allows the album to be more immediately appreciated than Ragnarok’s earlier work. Whatever tweaking the band has made in the presentation of its material certainly hasn’t reduced the efficacy or heaviness of its sound.
Malediction is a no-frills black metal album that fulfills all requirements—and that’s all it needs to be. It’s not groundbreaking, and its communiqué and means of dispatch are familiar, but Ragnarok’s missives are delivered here as directly and acrimoniously as possible, with sufficient bile to meet the band’s objectives and its fans expectations.
Malediction is a bitter, vitriolic whirl; 45 minutes of necro-nastiness backed by corrupting, uncompromising passion. In other words, what the best black metal should be.