Review Summary: Prepare for moments of delusion, confusion and definitely frustration. Dodheimsgard's latest effort is a game-changing, career-defining effort, not just for black metal, but extreme metal in general.
Albums like A Umbra Omega
really test your patience. Not just the first time, or even the second and third, but in some listeners' cases, it could take up to ten times of hearing the album before you realize what black magic is at work. And so the same can be said for any other Dodheimsgard work, because in all honesty, they seem to be a black metal band often isolated from the rest of the pack. At least this was the case until drummer Kvohst left the band in early 2008 for a couple of years. Now the year is 2015, and all but the devoted fanbase have probably forgotten about the madcap, experimental, meandering previous effort that was 2007's Supervillain Outcast
, which if anything, proved Dodheimsgard were the weirdest extreme metal act to have formed in the mid-90s. So the big question for the devoted fanbase is, without a shadow of a doubt, does 2015's A Umbra Omega
hit expectations, exceed them, or have the band intentionally decided to sell out and take the easy road to black metal super-stardom?
Depending on your taste, it could be all three or none of these answers, because A Umbra Omega
, as versatile, bizarre and obscure as it is, certainly gives you a challenge, and in the end you may just move on before the album's even finished. And those who do get tired of this should never be blamed for doing so, as there are many aspects here which prove ultimately divisive. The vocals are warped, raw and brutally honest in their delivery. The experimentation shoots off in all directions, but not all the time. And the black metal influence probably only makes up about 5% of the album's entirety. So why is this review giving such a high rating when these three "flaws", if you will, are largely evident. Well, A Umbra Omega
was only ever intended to suit particular tastes, even if it gains inspiration from most musical styles and twists them to sound anything but pleasant. Aside from the obvious black metal sound (which, here, only really serves as the intro of most songs), you have jazz fusion ("Aphelion Void"), progressive rock ("God Protocol Axiom", "Architect of Darkness") and a hell of a lot of ambient parts (every song bar closer "Blue Moon Duel"). And the best thing about it is, everything seems to work together in a collaborative manner.
There's never any sudden shifts in style, nothing ever seeks out to alienate the fanbase or throw the listener off course, but at the same time, A Umbra Omega
demands complete concentration. Take the fifteen-minute long "Aphelion Void" for example, which for the first minute or so is some of the most simplistic black metal music you'll ever heard. The remaining fourteen minutes basically suggest that the production of the album went through a black hole, became warped and twisted with every other musical style you can think of, and sent the finished product hurtling through space, isolated and ignored by the mass audience. That's what you should expect from the rest of the album, in all fairness. Because "Aphelion Void" is both majestic and maniacal enough to send you into a mind-numbing frenzy. It takes so many roads that by the end of its fifteen-minute length, you will be intrigued enough to have it on repeated listening just to gather all the musical ideas for a more critical take on what you've just listened to. "God Protocol Axiom" and the rest of the album follow the same disorganized, jagged musical pattern, yet every single song here has its own particular world to explore. Indeed, you can pinpoint exactly which song you're listening to, because the experimentation also makes perfect sense. "God Protocol Axiom" and "Architect of Darkness" actually go hand in hand due to their more progressive mid-sections, where you can hear Yusaf Parvez strainingly yet sorrowfully wincing each lyric out as if it was his very own nightmare. "Aphelion Void" and "Blue Moon Duel" are naturally more immediate and engaging at first glance, but even they have their own identifiable sound. They are what one could consider "ambient black metal", but when you're even considering that particular style of the sub-genre, the band throw a spanner in the works to direct your attention to other instruments and vocal effects.
There is a more important aspect to consider which at times eclipses the musicianship, and that's basically the meaning of each and every song. Dissecting each and every song here and relating musical tone to lyrical imagery would take an entire dissertation, but each song apart from the opening "The Love Divine" stands out from the other. "Aphelion Void" is developed through insane musical passages but constantly taunts you as if you were about to enter a nightmarish hallucination. "God Protocol Axiom" and "Architect of Darkness" are more self-exploratory, and the lyrical content of both songs seem more like extended, literary monologues moments before the speaker is about to suffer a horrible death. "Blue Moon Duel" at times reflects Pink Floyd's idea of spacey unconsciousness, and a large chunk of the album closer is simply dedicated to looking above and beyond, witnessing life and death twisted in many forms, before the menacing barrage of black metal hurtles you back to reality. This lyrical imagery contributes excellently to the spoken-word delivery each and every time, and particularly reaches its peak in "The Unlocking", which is arguably the one song which closely resembles black metal in its most traditional form. The monologue style which is managed throughout "God Protocol Axiom" returns here, and controls the song as if it was one act of an entire, self-indulgent play. This isn't to say that the musicianship or vocal delivery is non-existent on A Umbra Omega
, but in the rawness and harshness of each lyrical part, you can feel emotions being torn apart then put together with new ideas and senses.
Alas, all this probably sounds pretentious and self-indulgent, more so than many of you would probably want. But it really isn't. It isn't one of those records which are too beautiful for their own good, too majestic to be holding its head high above the clouds. Nor is it a statement of intent, because Dodheimsgard already proved themselves with 1999's 666 International
, and again with 2007's Supervillain Outcast
that, if anything, they are performing with honest intent, and not trying to force themselves on the listener too much. A Umbra Omega
will most likely confuse you as a first impression, and there's no denying the amount of focus you'll need when going into the album. But as challenging as you think it will be to listen to A Umbra Omega
, it was most probably just as challenging for Dodheimsgard, if not more so, to have crafted an album like this in 2015.