Review from Nine Circles

Posted by Hypnotic Dirge Records on Tuesday, May 7, 2024 Under: English
From: Nine Circles
Published: April 17, 2024

Black metal often finds itself more suited for experimentation and pushing boundaries than other genres of extreme metal; just look at how much it has grown and transmuted in the 40 years since its arguable inception with Bathory’s debut. These countless iterations of the genre are all fine and good, but I’m always a sucker for bands that manage to recapture some of the magic of the second wave with enough modern flair to keep it fresh and interesting. After a series of demos and EPs dating back to 2021 Hekseblad have emerged with their debut full-length Kaer Morhen; this melodic black metal powerhouse is well-written, varied, and deliciously heavy — hopefully it marks just the beginning for this promising duo.

If the album art wasn’t making it obvious enough, Kaer Morhen is black metal heavily influenced by the likes of Emperor, Dissection, and other purveyors of the legendary Blue/Purple Album Cover™. The most striking aspect of the album upon first listen was the in-house production courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Frosk; fairly lo-fi, but in a dense manner that’s perhaps the best replication of the Nightside Eclipse sound that I’ve ever heard… no trebly buzzsaw guitars overpowering every other aspect of the sound here! This production serves to give an archaic aura that perfectly suits the subject matter, that of Andrezj Sapkowski’s “The Witcher” series. Regrettably I have little-to-no knowledge of that world aside from some cultural osmosis (all three games have sat collecting dust in my Steam library for untold years at this point), but fans will no doubt have a deeper understanding of the lyrics and song titles. What I can say is that the album is steeped in fantasy/medieval atmosphere, with plenty of acoustic guitar interludes, an apt string and piano waltz in “A Grain of Truth (Nivellen’s Waltz),” and a harpsichord intro in “The White Flame.”

Despite the similarity in sonic quality to In the Nightside Eclipse, musically Kaer Morhen is very much a melodic black metal album. Synths are often present, but serve as sound enhancers rather than a primary melodic component as you might get with a band like Arcturus or Odium — the meat and potatoes of Hekseblad are the lilting melodies, arpeggiated chords, and crushingly heavy riffs. While not as lead-driven and bombastic as Dödsrit’s incredible Nocturnal Will last month, there’s a definite callback to the glory days of heavy metal past in the twin-guitar melodies and shredding of the title track or the mid-tempo chugs of songs like “The Taste of Ash” and the appropriately titled “Master Crafted” — the latter in particular would surely make Quorthon break out the nasty riff face. The songwriting on display is very well done; individual songs have themes and motifs that repeat, but moment to moment there’s little repetition. Particularly impressive to my ears is the lack of reliance on modern post-black/atmoblack songwriting tendencies, i.e. some sort of clean guitar lull that builds up to an epic finish (nothing wrong with that, it’s just nice to hear something else for a change!) Single “Sodden” has one of my favorite transitions on the album: just three ascending notes played faster and faster (almost to the point of falling apart) before transforming into the next melody.

From the epic leads that open “School of the Wolf” all the way through to the rousing conclusion of “Vatt’ghern,” Kaer Morhen is chock full of more great riffs and melodies than some bands have in their entire discographies. While steeped in dark, fantastical atmosphere, Hekseblad aren’t afraid to both have fun and go absolutely ham with some of the riff and songwriting choices — this album is all the better for it. A damn fine debut, and one that may just herald the coming of the next brightest stars in black metal today.

Reviewed by: Colin

In : English 

Released: April 19, 2024
Genre: Melodic Black Metal


Blog Archive