Friday, August 21, 2009

1349 - Revelations of the Black Flame

Wrapping up our week from Candlelight Records, we’re proud to shine the spotlight on one of the darkest, most imposing discs to leave scorch marks of Hades flames across my desk. 1349’s Revelations of the Black Flame has stirred up some controversy in the realm of black metal, though I can’t quite comprehend it. Revelations is, to my ears, black metal perfection in the way of Enslaved’s classic Below the Lights. Every song adds something new, intrigue in dynamics, and the album as a whole doesn’t relegate itself to being limited to a genre’s definition. Don’t get me wrong. This is a brutally dark and sinister slab of molten black metal, but these guys have taken this desolate form of expression and added layers upon layers of nuance to the music. So much so, that the whole thing becomes a compelling and addictive listen. I had read bits about 1349 for a few years and naturally, my curiosity was peaked. I was fully expecting the blackened screech of a thousand tortured souls to greet me as I dropped the needle on the record, and in so many ways, that did happen. However, there was more to the experience. While listening to Revelations, I never expected that I would spend the next hour with my jaw firmly nestled in the fibers of my carpet.

In my mind’s eye, the musical swirls like the smoke rising from a thousand burning corpses. Through the smoke and flames, jagged mountains jut from the earth, cast in shadows and bathed in hues of red. A line of robed figures drag limp forms of humanity along paths etched in the sides of the mountains, their way lit only by the burning torches in their hands. The valley below is immersed in smoke from the dying fires. And through it all, the slow, methodical and patient sounds of the musical intro builds. The tortured screams of those thousand souls eventually grow silent as the primitive sounding beat of steel against steel rings out, and the mega sized guitar riffs creep into the mix. Folks, within three minutes, 1349 grabbed my attention to the fullest extent and had me clinging to every note that spilled from the speakers. “Invocation” is as fascinating an intro as I’ve ever heard and I found it amazing that the fusion of these sounds could have such a powerful impact on my psyche. Oh yeah . . . it’s dark. The introduction screams let you know that right off the bat, but the songs then flows into a pool of ambient sounds before the hard edged metal sounds poke their head through the surface. All budding black metal mongers should take note of this song, as it perfectly sets the mood for the entire album and acts as a guide line for a compelling, and attention grabbing introduction.

1349 tears through a variety of moods throughout Revelations of the Black Flame and it’s the midpoint of the album that best emphasizes that point. Fourth track, “Maggot Fetus Teeth Like Thorns” blasts with all of the guitar rifferery of men trying to expel their demons . . . deep tones, something that’s raised an eyebrow or two in the black metal community, and a definite element of groove give the song a weight to it. This particular guitar tone reminds me of the groovier black metal bands like Khold or Sarke, but it’s the power house drumming that separates 1349 most distinctly. The drums are up tempo affairs, for the better part of the tune, throwing in bass drums that rattle away at triple time. Then the drums explode into a flurry of blast beats, shoving everything that’s not bolted down from its path; guitars scream in their solo-rific way, strings bending to the impossible. It’s a classic style extreme metal song, full of obscene power, obnoxious volume, and overpowering attitude.

Then, something completely different happens. To follow up the blast beat chaos, 1349 drop a somber tune in our laps. A piano quietly plinks out its notes, painting a beautiful picture of desolation and loneliness. It’s a striking piece when put in context with the rest of the material on the album. And, even taken out of context, it’s a moving song. Doom-y elements and textures eventually overtake the piano work, but the song, thankfully, never explodes into a blast beat frenzy. I say “thankfully” because to go all extreme metal again would have ruined the vibe of the song. “Misanthropy” is perfect the way it is, shining a little light, no matter how bleak the tones are, changes up the mood of the album. It creates a sense of despair without the cacophony, and adds its own weight to an already incredibly heavy album. Kind of like a psychological horror movie versus a straight up slasher flick. Revelations has its blood and gore, but the truly scary part is what it does to the mind.

“Uncreation” follows up the psychological thriller with an epic black metal masterpiece. Distorted arpeggios reverberate from the speakers, the drums crash down in a steady mid temp beat, and the vocals are packed with the guttural sinister violence that one would expect from the genre. Double bass drums erupt and the guitars tighten up with a heavy palm muted riff . . . the tension building in huge waves before dispersing to the opening arpeggio riff. Again, this song has a groove to it. Though, the band doesn’t feel bound to leaving it in a box. They expand on the ideas and push the walls of the box out, tearing walls down where they feel that they need to so that their musical ideas can stretch out and develop into the epic. Artsy, but devastating, ambitious, but violent, “Uncreation” is the song that draws me back time and time again.

Yeah, I don’t get it. I don’t get how some people in the metal, specifically black metal community can be so close minded as to feel that Revelations of the Black Flame doesn’t belong in the black metal family or genre or whatever they’re bitching about. In my opinion, they’ve done everything right. They’ve created a dark album, pushed the music into aural crevices that have never witnessed sound before, dropped blast beats on top of icy grooves, painted pictures of rotting bodies, serpents, skulls, blood, and death, and they wear corpse paint. I’ve always respected the bands that push the limits on their respective genres, the black sheep of their particular communities, simply because playing by the rules is no fun. It’s music, for Loki’s sake! It’s supposed to be about expression and following the muse that creates sound to the delight or chagrin of the artist. Look at Enslaved, for instance. Without completely turning their back on black metal, they’ve redefined their style by adding elements of prog in their music, and honestly, their more recent works are much more interesting than their early works. Their early works are revered by one sect as “true” black metal, but it was limited in scope. 1349 have essentially followed a similar path and experimented with their sound. I, for one, am thrilled beyond belief that they did and I’m excited as to where their sound will go in the future.

-- Pope JTE

Buy here: Revelations of the Black Flame


Cosmos Gaming said...

I didn't like this album at all. It's not that I disliked the band trying something new, but the style it was trying to dabble in has been done so much better by other bands.

Dimaension X said...

I completely agree with this review - the black metal community always complains when albums are nothing but blast beats and tremolo riffs - here we have something different and what do they do - complain that this album is NOT black metal - sheesh!

This album is a great step in the right direction for a band that was already drifting towards stagnant waters.

The RIpple Effect said...

Cosmos - Name me some of those bands coz' I'd like to find more music that explores sounds and themes like 1349 have done. This is the style of black metal that gets me excited for the genre. I'm easily bored of blastbeats and chaotic noise with no dynamics. Hat's off to a band that's going to challenge themselves and their listeners to try new things.

Waverider X - Exactly my point of the review. It's as black as metal gets. It creeped me out and compelled me to listen with greater concentration. Is it the fastest album out there? God no! That's not the point of it. Give me dynamics and textures, mood changes and flavor . . . I'm down with this release.


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