Before all of Jari Maenpaa’s wankery with his current musical act Wintersun, and around the same time he was with Ensiferum, Maenpaa was a part of a far less popular symphonic black metal band named Athemesia, derived from the Latin word for wormwood. Contrary to Wintersun’s and Ensiferum’s lyrical themes, Arthemesia put a heavy concentration on the occult and things typically associated nowadays with black metal, such as Satanism and Shamanism. It’s really not anything like fans of Maenpaa are used to, and most people who admire him never knew that he was a part of a symphonic black metal band which really took all the elements of the genre and polished them into what would become Devs – Iratvs
, the bands first full-length production. What sets Devs – Iratvs
apart from other symphonic black metal albums is its ability to put an equal emphasis on pure aggression and complex musical compositions, while not letting the “symphonic” part drown out the “black metal” part.
I’m really not the biggest fan of symphonic black metal in the first place; keyboard melodies simply don’t cut it for me. So it came as a pleasant surprise when the opening track “Blade Circle” tears open right from the start with a riff straight out of the early-90’s Norwegian scene, backed by a typical blast beat. It’s not until a minute or two later that the keyboards dare to make an appearance, and work their way in as a more of an atmospheric touch rather than an overwhelming force. Throughout the running time of Devs – Iratvs
, the keyboards compliment the fantastic guitar work from Maenpaa and fellow guitarist Routa Salomeri, while also taking the time to add fantastic atmospheric touches to the music, leaving the guitars to carry the flow and melody of the album for a little while. For the first time while listening to an album which is labeled as “symphonic” in any way, I never felt like the keyboards were suffocating the rest of the instruments.
Alongside the atmospheric keyboards are some fantastically inventive guitar riffs, songs such as the brilliant and unrelentingly melodic “Ancestor of Magick” feature riffs so good you’ll wonder why this band sort of fizzled into nothingness. However, the pace is never sacrificed so that melody can reign, the two work together beautifully, with aggressive and lightning-speed melodies transitioning into slower moments of keyboard-laden bridges before firing into a blast-beat fueled verse before sliding into a guitar solo full of sweeping, tapping and other guitar fodder more befitting of a power metal record than a black metal one.
Fear not, though, because this album remains distinctly black metal, especially in the vocal department. Nearly all of the vocals are shrieked in a raspy, high-pitched black metal wail by founding member Valtias Mustatuuli, which are sparsely broken up by moments of not-so-good clean vocals which seem more awkward than anything. Like the rest of the instrumental department on the album, the harsh vocals move at a pretty unrelenting pace, being completely unintelligible but starkly fitting for the music. Epic moments are dotted throughout the album very scarcely, but when they arrive it leaves you with a feeling of wonder, such as the fantastically atmospheric song “Celebration Of The Heaven Lost”, which is highly reminiscent of a crude, and I daresay better, atmosphere of which Jari so desperately conveyed on Wintersun’s debut, except here they are fresher, less monotonous, and overall much more enjoyable. This can most likely be attributed to the fact that the album is certainly not trying for that epic nature, so when these moments hit it comes across as hugely varied and damn catchy.
Sure, there a moments where the album seems pretty average; not terrible, but average. However, for the majority of the album the music is complex, brutal, and very melodic. The album opens and closes with songs containing a virtually unrelenting black metal assault, which sandwich moments of grandeur, sorrow, and mercifully unpretentious moments of symphonic black metal which most bands of the genre try to achieve but really come out with exactly the opposite. You fans of Wintersun may not like this album because it actually doesn’t want to be 100% epic, 100% of the time, but you may find solace in the fact that Jari and his band mates deliver one of the most solid pieces of melodic/symphonic black metal I’ve come across. Devs – Iratvs
is a very enjoyable piece of music for fans of multiple genres to enjoy, provided you can overlook some bland moments and appreciate the huge chunk of quality metal recorded on this album.