Review Summary: A little old school black metal never hurt anyone and luckily Urgehal knows how to play it right. The black n' roll style is present in full attire with plenty of power chords and soloing to set the album apart just enough to show the band is aging well.
In today's saturated black metal market there isn't anything more one could ask for than quality, well-written, and interesting music regardless of whatever sub-genre the band falls under. As many sub-genres as there are, though, Urgehal decides to stay where they've been for a long time, or at least when they released their first album back in 1997, yet makes leaps and bounds of progress in refining their own musicianship and direction.
This is great news because Ikonoklast picks up where the previous effort, Goatcraft Torment, left off but with much more musical variety, more fleshed out ideas, and smart production decisions that elevate it worlds above anything Urgehal has done in the past, and to be honest, what many bands are doing nowadays.
With old school sensibilities in mind (think Celtic Frost, Darkthrone), Ikonoklast has an infectiously catchy, black n' roll aesthetic, characterized by a very audible bass that reminds me of Carpathian Forest, Khold, and Tulus (Evil 1999), not to mention lots of fast and furious black metal riffage of the tremolo variety with a good dose of power chords to add some brutality. Things only get more awesome from here, as you'll hear plenty of old school death metal chords ala Morbid Angel with distant yet scorching leads that sound like they were ripped from Morrisound Studio back in the mid-90s.
Old school? You bet it is. And just like so many bands back then could be, Urgehal is downright nasty with its delivery, thanks to very wise decisions in the mixing and production departments. The just-good-enough production will appeal to conservative and “liberal” black metal fans alike, and the reverb on Nefas' vocals is truly something many bands need to study. Honestly, Nefas does such a brilliant job here, just like one might imagine from a modern sounding A Blaze in the Northern Sky, which is definitely something that deserves praise, regardless of which school of black metal thought you espouse. Admittedly, his voice did stick out on the first spin, simply because it's quite loud, but it didn't take long for me to really enjoy his thick, not-too-raspy, and clearly understandable intonations, especially in the song, Astral Projection to Rabid Hell, which is a definite highlight of the album.
In fact, there's a distinct sense of rhythm and groove on this album, even when the guitars dictate speed. Whether it's Nefas' pseudo-chanting, Uruz's conservative cymbal clashing and rhythmic drumming, or Mannevond's always audible bass, each element of Ikonoklast is clearly distinct yet never drifts apart, harmonizing beautifully into one sound.
In the end, I'm left repeating myself: what more could one ask for? It truly is refreshing to see a black metal band grow and mature yet retain its old school charm without a single compromise. Urgehal makes this sound relevant and shows that a little creativity and focus is all you need to be good.