Review Summary: Proof that USBM isn't completely hopeless.
I picked up this CD purely on the fact that it was on the Cold Dimensions label which generally releases solid, if not great, black metal. The band is from (surprisingly) California, which one would never guess with the artworks extensive snow imagery, both on the cover and in the booklet. It also doesn't sound like Californian black metal, be it Xasthur
, or Ashdautas
. The group really puts forth a very strong first effort with this release, and hopefully Battle Dagorath will grow and release an even better sophomore album.
The intro is composed and performed by Vinterriket
, who also mastered the album. It's a typical thick string composition you could hear on any given Vinterriket release, but it's not half bad, it sets a decent mood, though there is a little apprehension that the rest of the album will be coated in heavy synth sounds. Fear not, Dead Eyes Of The Moon alleviates these fears with a riff that could be straight from Burzum
, the guitars sound perfect, very distorted and full but with a trebly edge to them. Then in kicks the drumming and the album never really loses any pace or energy from there. The drumming is well done, and extremely well produced, the snare is high in the mix with the ride and hats, but the kick drum is mixed low so as to spare the annoying sound of a triggered kick blasting away and covering the rest of the mix. Drumming also varies a lot, there are lots of fills, variation in drumming mid-riff, and some half time feels to keep the songs interesting.
The guitars are heavy with reverb and each note is not distinct, but creates a layer of sound which I personally love in black metal productions. The riffs are generally basic tremolo riffs with some slower chords and arpeggio breaks in songs. The songs are very riff oriented, though a pitfall is that riffs are not very distinct at times and this makes it easy to confuse songs and parts of song structures. There are definitely stand out moments though, such as the end of Ruin Upon The Mountainside which features a huge open ringing guitar chord, then throws in a sample from Lord Of The Rings and then resumes in a slower mid pace than the rest of the song, which feels appropriate and is an excellent way to ease the almost 9 minute song to an end. Clearly there is some thought behind the structures and arrangement of the songs here.
Vocals remind vaguely of Leviathan, though not enough to warrant a clone or rip-off of Wrests vocal style. They sound similar to what Wrest would sound like without the excessive chorus and phaser sounds on his vocals, which isn't a bad thing at all. They're also mixed fairly high and many parts of the song structures feature vocal parts, so that there aren't too many long extended instrumental sections that would gradually lose interest. The most impressive aspect of the album is the fact that there isn't really any memorable riff or hook to every song, and with the songs averaging around 7 minutes they still manage to be interesting and don't feel like one riff for the entirety of the song. Very solid job on song-writing and also production, which feels natural and gives each instrument space and a distinct sound in the mix.
This album amounts to the best new black metal band I've found all year, gives me some hope in the genre, and is something I'd recommend to anyone into the genre. Very solid, if not ever spectacular, but definitely engaging and worth several listens.