By Nathanas Trismegistus

Förgjord – Laulu kuolemasta (translates to “A song of death”); released April 3, 2020 by Werewolf Records. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Finnish Kvlt is alive and well with bands like Förgjord. Not even a year after the release of Ilmestykset, the masters of the black craft return with yet another masterpiece. Werewolf Records seems to have finally taken a break from its steady stream of mediocre symphonic black metal releases in order to unleash this avalanche of austere elegance.

Haunting, glacial melodies and wicked, inauspicious atmosphere abound. The drums pompously stamp and stomp in anticipation until the inevitable charge of blast-beats. The guitars alternately needle you with acrid, melancholic dissonance and lull you with drifts of soft, pleasant consonance; a perfect musical representation, I think, of the experience of hypothermic death. The shrill vocals are like a foul, caustic voice conveyed upon the winds of a blizzard. All in all, this album plays like a revenant, tireless and malevolent, hunting you down in the perplexity of the unbroken, opalescence of a labyrinthine forest during a stark, winter whiteout. Laulu kuolemasta album really is an exercise in refinement. Förgjord seems to have tasked themselves with trimming all the fat off their previous effort (and, yet its running time exceeds that of Ilmestykset). Nothing is wasted. Nothing is waste. Nevertheless, I’m really anxious to find out if their next album manages to exceed this one in quality or if Förgjord finally break their streak of unremitting excellence. Tracks 2 and 4 are probably my favorites; but, really, this album should be experienced, properly, in its entirety.

Bitter. Harsh. Cold. Grim. This album is an auricular icicle impalement. If you consider yourself a fan of Finnish black metal, you should own at least one Förgjord album. They’re all good. I think each successive album improves, in some small way, on the last. Laulu kuolemasta is no exception. If you want the best and can only afford one (I know almost everyone is financially struggling right now), buy it. A fair warning, though: the production really facilitates the disturbing atmospheres as I’ve described them. It is appropriately raw; so, if you have the ears of the uninitiated, this album will not appeal to you. For some reason, though – I don’t know if it was a request of the band or some weird, contractual obligation – this album is neither streaming on the band’s Bandcamp nor the label’s. Physical copies – CDs exclusively (for the time being) – exist, but good luck acquiring a copy. Your only option – as far as I’m aware – is to buy from Werewolf Records directly via e-mail, which is some strange, pathetic attempt at bringing back the “glory days” of mail orders during the age of the Internet. I get it. You want to cull the un-Trve from the black metal scene. Whatever. I will try to secure a copy and I suggest you do the same. Absolutely recommended. Absolutely essential.

By Nathanas Trismegistus

The True Werwolf – Devil Crisis; released February 28, 2020 by Werwolf’s own Werewolf Records. For those of you who don’t know, Werwolf, the mind behind the prestigious band (and personal favorite of mine), Satanic Warmaster, is involved in a plenitude of black metal-related projects including the venerable Horna and the classic Finnish band Pest. The True Werwolf is Werwolf’s BDSM black metal side project with occasional ambient synth elements (not to be confused with SW’s symphonic elements). This is not Werwolf’s only side project, mind you. He has another band called Orlok which you should definitely check out. Apparently, a second Orlok album is in the works, so, look out for that. But, I digress. The True Werwolf has been around for some time—since 2002. Under the True Werwolf banner, many demos were produced, but none were ever released to the public until 2007, in a compilation. And, in the intervening thirteen years, he never produced a proper, studio, full-length album. Sure there were plenty of demo compilations (three to be exact), EPs (six to be exact), and splits (three to be exact), but what this effectively means is that Devil Crisis is The True Werwolf’s “debut”. Are you keeping up? I hope so. Because I’m not done. There are seven tracks on this album (it does clock in at over 44 minutes, though). Two of them (tracks 4 and 5) were featured in the 2013 EP, “C.N.N. / 0373”. The opening track, “My Journeys Under the Battlemoon”, was featured in the EP, “Battlemoon”, which was released all the way back in 2011. Which means – if you’re keeping up – that only four of the seven songs on this album were originally written for Devil Crisis. In the description field of The True Werwolf’s Devil Crisis Bandcamp page (which will be linked below) it states that this album was “in the works for over six years”. Now I ask you, why did it take six years to write and record four songs? I thought I was slow. Damn.

This album’s existence was hinted at by Werwolf numerous times in various interviews. And those hints were so underemphasized and spread across several years, I would completely understand if you weren’t even aware of the fact that this album was just on the horizon. Very little attention was drawn to it. It was very understated and subtle. Very little in the way of fanfare, that’s for sure. And it was probably very wise of Werwolf to approach the release of Devil Crisis in that way. Expectations might be tempered, and any potential disappointment might be mitigated. Consequently, the question I have is not “was this album worth the wait?” But rather, “does this album reflect six years of work?” And the answer, as you could probably guess, is no. This album really feels like scraps of a Satanic Warmaster album (good scraps, though, that probably shouldn’t have been left to waste on the cutting room floor) awkwardly smashed together in a compilation with old, remastered or rerecorded TTW tunes. When you listen to this album, you really get the sense that this is not a cohesive whole, but rather a Frankenstein’s monster, pastiche of grafted limbs of varying stages of decomposition haphazardly stitched together.

Some might be tempted to describe The True Werwolf’s musical style by comparing and contrasting it to that of Satanic Warmaster’s. Some would say that it’s distinct. But it’s not that distinct. Other than the occasional audio samples (I couldn’t wager a guess as to where they’re from) and filthy old 80’s synth, most of these songs – particularly the first three – would fit perfectly in a Satanic Warmaster album. Many of the melodies found herein are very reminiscent of SW. Where it really diverges is with tracks like “0373” which is definitely the black sheep of the album. I know it’s a reference to some obscure Japanese animated show from the ‘80s (reinforcing the rumor that Werwolf is, in fact, a closet weeb). But, in the end, I’m not surprised by its inherent uniqueness because, again, I’ve heard it before in the aforementioned “C.N.N. / 0373” EP. In reality, though, the most “peculiar” track would definitely be the last; a mercifully short black/thrash/punk abomination known as “Magick Fire”. The cough at the end did make me chuckle, though.

What I can say, for certain, is that this album is an exemplary, albeit somewhat unbalanced and flawed, black metal album. What I cannot say, with any degree of certainty, is that I enjoyed it more than, for instance, Satanic Warmaster’s Fimbulwinter. Really, there’s probably nothing that Werwolf could ever release that I would hate (that is, unless he decided to release a Soundcloud mumble rap album). Best tracks are 1, 2, 3, and 6. While I thoroughly enjoyed “Chi No Namida”, I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time I listened to it—seven years ago. Recommended and essential listening for the “trvest” of Werwolf fans. Anyone else probably wouldn’t get it.

Listen/buy here:

By Nathanas Trismegistus

Faustian Pact – Outojen tornien varjoissa (translates to “In the Shadow of Strange Towers”); released February 14, 2020 by Werewolf Records. Evidently, Werewolf Records (a Finnish record label) and Hells Headbangers Records (a US record label and webshop) have some sort of special arrangement where the latter is the exclusive US distributor of the former; which is auspicious for me as I can easily acquire these obscure Finnish releases without having to get them imported. So, this is one of those rare instances where I actually already had the physical release of the album, in my hands, before listening to it and reviewing it. And I’ve really got to say, the physical CD – its presentation – is all rather stunning. The layout of the booklet is really nice with its golden text and ostentatious bordering. The color pallet, of blood reds and royal blues (which collide into a deep, blackish purple) and gold flourishes is all spectacular. Good job, Werewolf Records.

To start off, I know absolutely nothing about this band. The description on their Bandcamp states that they are “one of Finnish black metal’s best-kept secrets”, and I really can’t argue with that. They released a trio of demos some years ago. And, like cicadas, they dug themselves back into the loam of obscurity, only to emerge a decade later. I heard somewhere that Faustian Pact’s gimmick is their original lore or mythos, which is continuously being told and expanded upon via their musical works. Of course, the lyrics are entirely in Finnish. So, in spite of my, admittedly, limited Finnish lexicon (purely from listening to so much Finnish black metal), understanding exactly what is going on in this narrative is difficult. Regardless, I don’t critique literature here. I critique music.

As those of you who have read my “Black Metal 2019: Year in Review” article probably remember, I was not particularly fond of Vargrav’s most recent effort. Faustian Pact’s music is somewhat similar to Vargrav’s (I see V-Khaoz had some hand in the production of this album) and, by extension, Satanic Warmaster’s (yes, I will be reviewing The True Werwolf’s debut when it finally drops and I can’t wait). In this instance, though, the symphonic elements are more subdued. It may simply be because they are lower in the mix, but I think they are far less obtrusive and far less obnoxious. Faustian Pact come much closer to the delicate balance adeptly struck with Satanic Warmaster. However, Faustian Pact bring a whole new, unstable dimension to the symphonic black metal equation: female vocals. They’re not even constant. They don’t even appear in every song. But every time they showed up on a track, I had to seriously wonder whether or not I had accidentally put on a Cher album (especially on track 3). It was weird. There are a lot of other weird vocal elements, such as the dictated segments (which sounded way too dynamic and energetic to be Finnish) and the weird choral backing in track 10, but the female vocals stood out the most to me.

Every track has something new to offer. Not musically, though. Not even stylistically. Purely in terms of instrumental arrangement and sound layering, this album, and this band, will keep you on your toes. You won’t see what’s coming next. The level of compositional originality on display here is really quite refreshing, despite the odd reliance on synthesized flutes. If one were to analyze each component individually, one would find that the guitars and the drums really aren’t all that special. The simple, lackluster melodies often just repeat over and over. The drums really fail to deviate from the mélange of constant blast beats. If this album was envisioned or recorded purely as a conventional black metal album, it would probably just fall apart. Together, though, all of these components create a vivacious, mystical energy to ensnare and bewitch the listener. To use a phrase which hack music critics abuse when describing that which they fail to fully comprehend, this album is more than the sum of its parts.

It’s a nearly 45-minute jaunt through a charming, fantastical landscape; and it somehow feels like a third of its actual length. I had thought that Werewolf Records had really struck out last year with its album releases. Of course, I still think that; but, if this album is any indication of a trend, my opinion of them as a label may yet be swayed back into the realm of favorability. It’s a great start to the year. I thoroughly enjoyed Faustian Pact’s debut. I would almost suggest you go into listening to this record completely blind—with no expectations (even though this is the closing paragraph). No shortage of surprises to be found here. Spin this during your next quest in D&D. Recommended, but not essential.

Listen/buy here: