Sound — 9
A man of many projects', Sargeist/Horna
mastermind Shatraug has overseen the release of seventeen albums, EPs, demos and splits in the last two years, and the worrying thing is that most of them have been solo efforts. The quality control is lacking at times, but that's part and parcel of being so prolific. His obsessive creative disorder at least goes some way to explaining why it's been five years since the last Sargeist full-length, Disciple Of The Heinous Path'. Since then, we've had only scraps to feed on (out of tune, underproduced scraps at that) but Shatraug's finally left the bedroom for the kitchen and dinner is now served. Empire Of Suffering' lands with the impact of a mortar shell. Here, Shatraug has thrust his arm back through time, grabbed ahold of 2003's seminal Satanic Black Devotion' and pulled it through seven years of songwriting and engineering progression to unleash it on the new decade with full force. It doesn't stop there, either. The entire album is a hurricane of drama and fury, a complete work that is full in sound but raw in style. After the lo-fi wandering of the last few years, it is incredibly satisfying to hear such an emphatic return to what Sargeist does best. That is, taking what Darkthrone did best (trems n blasts on Transilvanian Hunger', FYI) and bringing the cold heart to boiling point. Desensitization leaves mediocrity by the wayside in this extreme metal landscape; it's tough to get by on simple devices but once again, it's pure band chemistry that does the trick. Together the group march through hellish darkness, laying down melancholy suspensions and the natural minor scale as they go; and while it's not a wall-to-wall blast, the emotional pace of the thing is frighteningly quick.
Lyrics — 9
Ah, another way to separate the men from the boys a commanding vocal performance! Behexen's Hoath Torog goes in and gets the job done, channelling the hate and suchlike into something that sounds worryingly like professionalism. If you're not picked up by the whirlwind you may be left behind forever but if anything's gonna pull you back in it's going to be the vocals. Vile, rotten icing on the burnt black cake.
Overall Impression — 10
Dark, fast, melodic, harmonic; Sargeist have here delivered a sucker punch to all the post-atmospheric-black-gaze guff that's taken precedence recently by crafting something that cuts no corners, makes no compromises and yet remains utterly accessible to anybody with even a fleeting interest in black metal. Bolstered by a mix that gives his haunting melodic sense all the power of hell and earth, Shatraug's finally got something to top Satanic Black Devotion'. Really, I just suggest you go and hear it for yourselves. It's one of the best albums of the year - undoubtedly the best black metal has had to offer - so go, go! Who knows how long it'll be before you'll be able to feast like this again?