Review Summary: Fast, Raw, Violent
My first experience of 1349 was, probably quite predictably, happening across "Sculptor of Flesh" on YouTube (still one of my favourite 1349 songs). Despite this, upon acquiring more of their material, 2003's Liberation quickly became the album I listened to most.
This album is threethings: fast, raw, and violent. However, it also has surprising clarity. The production is gloriously bad (would you really want it any other way"), but at the same time remains sharp, crisp, and clear, totally avoiding the passages of incoherence which occasionally crept into "Beyond the Apocalypse" (also a fantastic album despite this). The low end is almost entirely absent, allowing for a uniquely merciless treble. It you could touch it, you'd cut your fingers. Ravn sounds truly demonic throughout, a more than capable orator for the descent into chaos this album offers. I personally always prefer a black metal vocalist who can sound majestic as opposed to sounding like someone's raping an eagle in the studio; in that sense, Ravn is up there with Gaahl on Gorgoroth's "Ad Majorem" album.
Oh, and if it does ever snow in hell, it'll be a maelstrom, and it'll sound like Frost.
The onslaught begins with "Manifest", opening to what sounds, rather appropriately, like pneumatic drills, before Frost breaks through the feedback with a trademark blastbeat. The first impression of the guitar sound is, as described above, raw and scathing. Make the most of the first break in the song, it's one of the only breather's you'll get on the album. The verse pounds, and the guitars will shred your eardrums until they bleed.
"I Breathe Spears", despite the title not sounding nearly as evil as it wish it did, is one of my favourite tracks on this album. Black metal can sometimes feel like winter, and sometimes it can feel like war. This feels like war, like calculated brutality on a grand scale. Sometimes people (or maybe just me) wonder which tracks might be a good accompaniment to a kill spree. This one is up there.
"Riders of the Apocalypse" slows up the pace, only very slightly. Perhaps the word "slow" is deceiving; it's just not as fast as the songs it follows. It's easily as brutal, a highly satisfying slice of black metal and for me one of the highlights of this release. The opening riff, recurring throughout, is one of the album's most memorable. You WILL bang your head to it.
"Satanic Propaganda" opens with the most melodic passage on the album, a haunting guitar piece followed by crunching distortion and Ravn's shrieking entrance. This song also has, starting midway through, perhaps the finest blastbeat you'll hear on a 1349 release. Not only is it beyond fast, it's also insanely precise and as crisp as you like.
"Legion" is perhaps the standout piece on the album. It's well-paced and, like "Rider's of the Apocalypse", is a song to bang your head to. Ravn's vocals are particularly satisfying, being both raw and bloodthirsty, but still easily understandable. If you're feeling brave you can even sing along.
The album ends with a solid cover of Mayhem's "Buried by Time and Dust", a respectful nod to one of the genre's landmark bands.
The lasting impression I get from this album is one of consistency. Rather then spending all the best material in the first few songs (something I find happens often in many different genres, and seems like such a basic error), the highest points are evenly spread throughout. The only reason I didn't give this a higher score is because, in my opinion, it isn't genre defining or a "classic" in the way Darkthrone's "Under a
Funeral Moon" or Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse" are. That said, it's very hard to find a weak track on this album (if forced to pick, it would be between "Evil Oath" and the title track, but I dislike neither). I know some people don't like the raw production, and if that's the case then you might be put off by it here; the sound on this album is gritty and uncompromising. I personally love it, and think "Liberation" does a great job of it. It sounds raw but honed enough to hold its own among modern black metal releases.
For those already familiar with 1349, this contains some of their best material. If you're a black metal fan but are new to 1349, then this is a more than worthy addition to any collection.
Recommended Tracks: "I Breathe Spears", "Riders of the Apocalypse", "Satanic Propaganda", "Legion"