Review from Makeshift Altars

Posted by Nick Skog on Friday, September 18, 2020 Under: English
From: Makeshift Altars
Published: September 12, 2020

Ov Shadows fly in to deliver you a glacial slab of black metal all the way from Sweden, and boy are their arms tired...

    ...not from flapping their would-be wings, of course, which I’m sure would be covered in tar-black feathers. Either that or something resembling a bat’s wings. Black Metal Animorphs, anyone? Just me? Okay... no, in all seriousness, where these black metal bands get the stamina to deliver these absolutely pelting sections of blastbeats and constant double-picked leads for at least 90 percent of a 45-minute album is beyond me. But Ov Shadows pull it off, and showcase a wealth of not only arm strength but songwriting competence as well.

    Black metal can really start to sound a bit unimaginative after listening to artists try to pull off the same wintery sound over and over, with so many purposefully under-produced tracks you would think a business selling only $5 microphones would be trading on the New York Stock Exchange by now. So when I heard the Swedish black metal group Silencer for the first time, with such crystal-clear production, inventive track structures, and passionate vocals, it completely refreshed my views on black metal as a whole. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that another Swedish black metal band would come for my heart by following in some of the same snow-covered footsteps once again, this time with an additional 20 years of musical retrospective to back them up. Now this is not to say that Ov Shadows are going so far as to completely change the landscape of the genre as a whole, but their efforts here are truly commendable nonetheless. 

    From the moment that the album opener “Den Eld som Tär Och Förvrider” (“The Fire That Consumes and Distorts”, for you non-Swedes our there) extends its tattered-robed arm towards you and motions for you to move closer, you’re already under its spell. We begin immediately under fire from a volley of percussion, accompanied by some dissonant guitar work that will leave you reminiscing over that old Immortal cassette you spent entirely too much money on, but let’s not get ourselves covered in nearly 30 year old cobwebs here. These guys have come for blood, and it shows. The vocal performance gives the impression of deranged wickedness, cold and menacing but coming from a place of true misery beyond the years of what could be considered a normal lifespan. The melancholic but surprisingly clean melodies in combination with the slight choral effect on the vocals lend an almost wistful air to the proceedings, as if recalling the lands as they were in days of yore. This is typical of the genre but done to great effect here, almost as moving as the drunken ramblings of Urfaust, but with less aggression and more of a dynamic, modern feel. “Anakoretens Gap” (“The Maw of the Anchorite”) and the title track deliver a fantastically moving 1-2 punch of emotion as well, slowing things down at just the right moments to lend some breathing room before continuing the auditory assault. It seems from the lyrical content that the album, contrary to how cohesive it sounds as a whole, is made up of a few different themes and ideas, each one as dark and foreboding as the next (a gloomy Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes, if you will). The center piece of its majority is religion, and that’s exactly what fascinates me about “Anakoretens Gap”; the translation makes specific mention of an “Anchorite” (a term I had never heard before), which is a sort of religious hermit, and the track seems to weave a sad tale of one whose devotion to their worship leaves them ready to perish as their world collapses around them. There is an abundance of anguish and despair trapped within each wail, but also huge undertones of anger and hatred. The project, personified, radiates a misanthropic, violent energy; certainly not the type of traveler one would want to cross on a stormy night. This is reflected in no better place than the lyrics of “Spotsk” in which the speaker expresses great disdain for an unnamed acquaintance that has apparently become disillusioned in life; I’m assuming here that the disillusionment is from learning some sort of ugly truth about their faith, given the rest of the album’s overall themes. The contempt turns into mockery as they watch the subject fall deeper into a manic state, watching as their “soul dies” and they look on with scornful laughter. If that doesn’t show contempt for humanity, I’m not sure what does…

    In retrospect, Ov Shadows’ previous entry The Darkness Between Stars is a very comparable release to their 2020 outing, with their lengths being almost identical and production value seeming very similar on initial listens. But I think the main difference here is in terms of pacing and intensity. Nearly every song on Darkness starts with a slow build-up of some sort, that leads into a faster paced section that is standard for black metal, with a few more peaks and valleys of varying energy. This time around, Ov Shadows ride in on shadowy mounts from on high, keeping up the intensity much of the way through, with necessary breaks interspersed. I found myself head-bobbing without realizing it quite a few times during I Djävulens Avbild’s 43-minute span, which speaks to just how good it is at grabbing your attention even when you don’t think it has. Pretty much every track has a memorable section, and most of these come to fruition from the very neatly-laid kick patterns which lend a nice groove to the proceedings, much to the contrast of most releases from the band’s contemporaries which tend to opt for a more “raw” (read: messy) sound. Your grandmother’s 2nd wave black metal this is not! But make no mistake, these Swedes have more to back them up than great percussion work and some fancy tremolo strumming. Whereas Darkness found the group slowing down more often to incorporate more variation in tone and structure, this album favors a borderline-overwhelming vigor while still maintaining some excellently emotional undercurrents and decidedly angular guitar lines. And in that, I think the gang show their mature side, though I’m fairly certain they don’t have a lot of maturing to do being that their ancient ceremonial magick has kept them alive for centuries now.

    In closing I just want to highlight how masterfully the final track “Av Kunskap Krönt till Gud” (“By Knowledge Crowned God”) showcases the group’s talent and knack for crafting such intricately woven but cohesive pieces that I couldn’t imagine a more fitting end to the journey. No instrument goes unnoticed in this auditory assault, especially with the small bass flourishes at around the 2:10 and 2:30 marks. There’s an air of finality to the piece, and the halfway point gives a brief moment of respite before building up to a crescendo of mixed animosity and elation; the lyrics reflect a ritualistic intent, so the combination of these elements leave the listener with a lasting impression of having bore witness to a grandiose display of supernatural power. Having never been to Sweden, I can only guess the frequency with which such events occur there, but it must be often given how easily the imagery is brought forth. Must be like two times a week? Three? Man, I should really travel more…

Reviewed by: Ryan

In : English 

Tags: "ov shadows" "i djavulens avbild" "ov shadows album" "ov shadows band" "waning band" "obitus band" "swedish black metal" 

 Released: August 14, 2020
Genre: Black Metal