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: https://werewolfrecords.bandcamp.com/album/outojen-tornien-varjoissa