Friday, November 30, 2012

Ragnarok - Malediction (2012)

Ragnarok have been steady underdogs in the Norwegian black metal scene for years now, having surfaced in the mid-90’s and steadily plugging away since then with a number of strong, if somewhat indistinct releases. Not that one could ever accuse the group of lacking for passion or talent, mind you, but their brand of vitriol has never been one to stray far from the core of the blackened flock. Malediction, in primal essence, does not betray this faithful adherence to archetype, and continues to focus on refinement over reinvention. Thus, your opinion of it will largely depend on what you’re looking for. Innovation is not a key characteristic of Malediction, but if you’re fine with a well-produced storm of savagery and don’t shy away from strong incorporation of vibrant, if still patently evil and unrepentantly punishing melody, this will be right up your alley. I’m reminded strongly of the militaristic pacing of 1349 circa Hellfire, with equal emanations of Dark Funeral in reference to integration of said melodies, and perhaps a touch of Gaahl-era Gorgoroth to the sheer madness of it all, a variety of influences which I enjoy quite a bit. Indeed, the core ideas here can all be traced back to myriad groups within the blackened dominion, but what matters is application, and in this respect Ragnarok continue to strive ever forward, inspired and hateful, if rarely surprising.

Despite being almost constantly in attack mode, there are subtle undercurrents of plodding heavy metal beats and swinging, carnal grooves that offset what would otherwise be a non-stop downpour of blast-beats. The word subtle in this context, however, is of the utmost importance, as Malediction is a truly forceful record. The natural structure of the riffing, though universally diabolical in essence, lends itself well to memory, as there are clear-cut lines in typical verse-chorus format.  Not so much that it feels cut-and-paste, but enough so that the subsections feel distinct in the context of each song, and the chosen progressions flow well into each other, lending favorable imagery of apocalyptic tornadoes, blood-splattered warriors, and the obligatory rolling of Christian heads. I find this makes the songs easy to comprehend, though the distinctions start blurring as one gets deeper into the record, and a sense of sameness begins to invade a portion of the material. If you’re not accustomed to such frenetic pacing, it can feel a bit overbearing to sit through 45 minutes of this, but such a circumstance is hardly the fault of the band. Indeed, they have their target audience pinned perfectly, and though there is admittedly a pretty wide selection of bands that fit within this niche, Ragnarok provide a pretty forceful, compelling experience here. It might be worth noting that Ragnarok have had a pretty significant restructuring of late, with only drummer Jontho remaining from the original line-up, and indeed the only member pre-2008. I’ve not delved too deeply into the past chronicles of Ragnarok (though I do possess them), just a spin or two each, but this might be interesting for more hardcore fans of the band to contrast and compare.

Did I mention the sound here is fantastic? Well it is. The instrumental balance here is perfect, and even though the spindly, clanging bass tone of also-singer DezeptiCunt , whose serpentine snarls add a favorable flavor of hatred, could have been a bit more full and resonant, it remains audible and impressive, sometimes even tangential in its wanderings. I was also suitably flattened by the performance of Jontho himself, who proves his experience with an attention to detail and propensity for fills that belies the often break-neck pacing. He finds a way to provide covert additions to even the most straight-forward of beats, and I found focusing on his performance very satisfying. The real star, however, is the riffing, the injection of fire that gives life to the storm. While not all riffs are created equal here on Malediction, there are few, if any, that could be considered lacking, and they make good use of spacing between notes. This is not solely a tremolo hatefuck, though that aspect is certainly prevalent. My favorite parts were the more spacious, vibrant melodies, as they just imbue more feeling than the blasting, but taken together, it’s a complimentary dichotomy. It must be noted that there are some rare moments of genius here, where the fibrous, tenebrous rancor of the riffing pounds out a tower that surpasses the rest of the material. These manifest in some truly memorable, exciting tracks such as Necromantic Summoning Ritual and The Elevenfold Seal, but crop up in numerous other excursions, imbuing some extra excitement throughout. Though not incredibly prevalent, these moments lead me to believe that Ragnarok could create something truly immortal, given the right collection of cosmic circumstances.

Malediction is just what you might expect from Ragnarok, for better or worse. It’s celeritous, stormy, and violent, shining with audible clarity and thirsting for religious blood, and a certain portion of the black metal populace will eat this up. One could argue, and with a degree of truth, that there are a great many bands who cater to this demographic, but to be fair, Ragnarok precede most of them. And that experience shows here, despite the relative youth of some of its members, in an all-around professional release. There is absolutely nothing experimental or revolutionary about Malediction, but that’s not its aim, and it packs a satisfying, blazingly vitriolic punch that carries out its intended mission with passion and fury. Not every song here is a home run of memorability, but they grow on you through repeated exposure, and when sitting in the eye of these whirling, necrotic melodies and basking in the raw talent of this cadre of corpse-painted killers, it’s hard not to appreciate the forces at work here.

7.75 / 10 - The Scourge of Your Belief