What draws me towards the music of Dark Funeral are the catchy leads, relentless drums and the sometimes atmospheric vibes, which remind me of Dissection, which their songs have. Their music absolutely reeks of evil and gives the listener a weird sense of power. Right from their debut these black metal giants have been spitting out quality black metal albums. However there has been little activity with respect the music since their last album ‘Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus’. There’s been a bit of drama however, with long time vocalist Emperor Magus Caligula leaving. But after a long break of seven years, the band is back with their new offering ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’.
On the surface, this album sounds like nothing has changed at fort Dark Funeral. All the signature elements are there right from the double bass to the melodic leads that cut through the thick and grainy rhythm and bass guitars. New vocalist Heljarmadr has taken to his role well and seems like the rest of the band has been able to work around this new vocal style.
Upon closer inspection however, there is more to this album. When I saw the album art, the first thing that struck me was its similarity to their debut. It’s got the same blue hue and there’s a hooded monk that looks like one of the monks on the debut. I feel that the band is trying to signify that this album is like a fresh start in a way, what with the changes in personnel and all. As I mentioned earlier, musically this album ticks every box in the Dark Funeral cliché list; this seems to be a conscious decision from the band as they didn’t want to experiment too much with their formula. When a team replaces a member they want to be sure that they can get through the basics before they try and do something ambitious.
Compared to Emperor Magus Caligula, Heljarmadr has a very traditional approach to black metal vocals. Magus used to shout out all his vocals, which gave it more intensity and a sense of urgency especially on the blisteringly fast songs on the previous two albums. However, with Heljarmadr I don’t feel that there is anything that distinguishes him from the rest of the pack. That, I feel, is the biggest thing the band lost with the departure of Magus Caligula. This obviously does not mean that the band now sounds generic; it is just that one of the distinguishing factors that make the band sound the way it does has been lost.
The production on this album is way better than any of their older ones; this is expected considering how many years it’s been since the last one came out. Lord Ahriman and Chaq Mol are amazing on the guitars; there are some really memorable and catchy leads on this album. Heljarmadr on vocals does a good job; he’s filling some big shoes but does so very competently. Newcomer Natt on bass was a little lost in the mix, it would have been better if his volume was brought up a bit more. Dominator on drums is just relentless with the double bass and blast beats, but he’s not all machine gun drums on this album, there are parts on some of the slower parts where he puts in some good fills and cymbal work.
There is a problem I have with this album, and this is one that I’ve had with all Dark Funeral albums since ‘Diabolis Interium’, and that is the mix. The bandhas this habit of mixing album putting the drums right in front, behind the drums is the fuzzy wall of rhythm and bass and the leads poke through this fuzz curtain, creating a piercing effect which emphasizes the leads even more. The problem with this type of mix is that when there is no lead all you hear is the drums and the vocals, the guitars are lost in a wall of fuzz where there is no texture to the sound. I have gotten used to this sort of mix over the years but I feel that it holds back some of the more nuanced finger play that happens on the guitars from the listener.
‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’ is an album which will delight Dark Funeral fans who might have been worrying what would happen to the band. It is a no-nonsense, back-to-perfection album which will get you excited to see what the band will produce next. They’ve taken the safe route but I can understand why and I’m interested in seeing where the band goes with its music after this major lineup change.