Review Summary: Christian black metal gains a foothold in the pagan lands of Norway.
Combining the tremolo picking guitars of black metal, female soprano vocals, haunting keyboards lines, black metal vocals and folk vocals seems like a very strange combination. Many would think that having three distinctly different vocal styles on top of the harsh musical stye that is black metal would not mesh in any sort of quality music. Adding keyboards would only cause those critics to laugh even harder. Fortunately those critics would be wrong in this case.
Let me introduce Slechtvalk, a christian black metal band hailing from the usually pagan lands of Norway. Slechtvalk formed in 1999, and went through numerous member changes while releasing two cd's: Falconry and The War that Plagues the Land. Although the band had a small fan base in Norway, it wasn't until the release of The Dawn of War that they began to make a name for themselves in the underground black metal scene.
Like a good percentage of other albums, The Dawn of War begins with an intro. From Out of the Mist We Came Forth is longer then most intro songs, hitting the 3:17 mark, and utilizes keyboards, flutes and drums to bring to mind ancient warriors marching toward the battlefield. Although a bit long at times, this song sets the battle fueled mood that is continued throughout the rest of the song. The lyrics on Dawn of War incorporate a lot of fantasy and weave a tale of epic battles between the forces of Good and Evil. They put moderate emphasis on their Christian faith, with some songs having more obvious lyrics then others.
A Falcon's Flight
Cold sharp hail is blown into my face by a stormy wind
I take shelter in a small wooden church near the black woods
A choir sings some songs of praise and worship for their lord
For a little while it makes me forget the sorrow I am in
"In distress we call to thee, we await thy return
for the forces of evil are closing in upon us,
but with thy help we can live beyond our lives' end,
oh Lord accept our gratitude for thy sacrifice"
Call to Arms is the first example of the style that is Slechtvalk. As battle horns ring out upon the plains, the first crash of cymbals and guitars awaits the listener. After some brief power chords backed by wailing female vocals, the tremolo picking so common to black metal begins. A short time after, the listener is introduced to the harsh vocals of Shangar, and the folk vocals of Ohtar. Shangar's vocals will be received by some, while others will turn their ears away. They boarder on the harshness of black metal vocals, but may not be as grating to some as other vocalists. Upon the entrance of Ohtar's folk vocals, the initial idea of what this band may sound like is thrown out the window like a knight off his charger. His deep voice gives a good contrast and time of calm to Shangar's harsh screams. Add in some background keys meandering about and the occasional female soprano by Fionnghuala, and you have the distinctive style of Slechtvalk.
The album continues its pummiling efforts, never letting up for more then a few measures, which are usually acompanied by atmospheric keys and soaring vocals. The little inturlude section in Thunder of War at the 2:21 mark is a good example of how Slectvalk manages to have a calm within their black metal whirlwind. Other songs like Beseiged and Desertation are mostly straight up speed burners, containing few, if any, clean vocals. The overall album is an intense listen and is not for the casual listener.
Although this album may seem like a nice change from the monotonous metal of nowadays, there is still flaws that mar the listening experience. Repetition and re-hashed ideas seem to hit in the later portion of the album. There seems to be no real let up in the drumming, just rapid double bass that eventually will just blend in and sometimes will be forgotten because of its sub-par originality. The production, like most black metal albums, is also weak. The guitars sound like old chainsaws, and the drums are so low in the mix as to make them almost inaudible at parts. The bass is also non-existent, but that is to be expected.
Overall I enjoy this album. Although it is not an everyday listen type of album, it still piques my interest every once in a while admist the growing plague of metalcore bands. The varying vocal styles and atmospheric keys keep the monotony down, and give it a unique place among black metal bands.