“That is all. A strange sense of nontransience.”
– Nescio, Pleziertrein, 1961.
Artist: Pagan Hellfire
Release: On The Path To Triumph (full-length album)
Record company: Tour de Garde
Genre: Ode au temps passé
Original Dutch text and English translation by Degtyarov
(Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie)
“Come what may, Vinland, I am ready!”
Loyal readers know that this webzine has quite regularly ridiculed bands such as Immortal and (later) Gorgoroth. While our mockery of ’90s corpsepaint bands is sincere, this derision is certainly not the product of a lack of respect for the Norwegian/Scandinavian ‘scene’. Bands from Northern Europe have been of crucial importance in transforming black metal from a quirky aesthetical concept into a full-fledged musical movement with a (contrary to genres such as thrash and death metal) distinctly European character. The oeuvres of bands such as Bathory, Burzum and Darkthrone cannot be praised enough.
No, Black Ivory Tower does not subscribe in the least to the anti-nostalgic sentiment that enjoys considerable popularity among many younger listeners of black metal. We do, however, understand it. Few things are more annoying than the dysphoric wailing of old bags who speak of the ‘good ol’ days’ in a tone that implies they were there when Euronymous tinkered with the shelves of Helvete. In addition to this misplaced air of superiority, one cannot ignore the fact that black metal as a music form has not exactly stood still since the early nineties. Bands such as Peste Noire, Akitsa and Drudkh certainly are at least on par with many of the artists that inspired them. The end of the Scandinavian hegemony and the subsequent evolution of the concept of black metal have been pivotal in the genre’s survival into the 21st century.
Still, in the middle of all this innovation, it can be refreshing to behold a band that, in l’an de disgrâce 2013, continues to honour the classic Norse sound. With its new album, On The Path To Triumph, Canadian black metallers Pagan Hellfire prove that the Norwegian tradition, even after two decades of genre evolution, has conceded little in the way of vigour. With stretched compositions, tremolo riffs and hard-as-nails blastbeats, this 1995-born one-man project shows no shame in delivering a typical black metal sound. In spite of the ‘pagan’ label (which can even be found in the band’s name), Pagan Hellfire has not adopted the minimalistic approach that relies on atmosphere and raw emotion, a method popularised by numerous Eastern European bands. Instead, On The Path To Triumph exhales a typical Second Wave sound and enriches it with well-balanced compositions, as well as qualitative instrumentation and production.
“The music evokes memories of past glory.”
Even though the aesthetisation of the primitive often makes it seem as if the element of production has been rendered irrelevant within black metal circles, this is a grave misconception. Albums on which a balance is found between listenability and rawness are often more tenable than those records that sway too much in either direction. More concretely, On The Path To Triumph sees Pagan Hellfire prove that the impact of even an inherently loud musical style such as black metal can still be amplified by a production that compliments the music and guides it into the listener’s soul. The deep, organic drums in particular ensure that the music leaves the speakers all the louder, yet without killing the guitars in the process. The crass, voiceless singing, too, possesses exactly the right amount of volume; loud enough to avoid being buried under a wall of unstoppable music, but not so prominent that it drives the instruments to the background à la Panzerfaust.
All said and done, in the end it is the compositions that make or break an album. Pagan Hellfire fortunately experiences few problems in this area. In accordance with black metal tradition, the band confidently abandons the pop music structure of verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and instead throws one riff after another into the fray. At times, certain melodies are repeated for the purpose of reinterpretation, a technique derived from classical music. Additionally, Incarnatus, the sole musician behind this project, possesses an extraordinary talent for creating melancholy-fueled riffs without ending up in the emotionally stale DSBM-zone. Instead of depressive thoughts, the music evokes memories of past glory, a sentiment which is reflected by such song titles as “What Has Always Been” and “Monuments Of Victories Forgotten”. Regardless, this melancholy is not delivered without a few sparks of hope for better times, to which the song “The Fire Of A New Dawn” attests.
“This is the ultimate tribute to the Old Masters.”
One should never underestimate the value of the progression of the black metal concept as it has been realised by some of the most visionary bands of our time. Yet, paradoxical as it may sound, it can at times be redeeming to behold artists drop the endless yearning for renewal, and to see them play bare-bones black metal without pretence nor compromise, just like it was done in the early nineties in Norway. The fact that Nova Scotia, where the band’s origins lie, happens to be the place where the Vikings built their settlements long before 1492 will undoubtedly encourage a variety of superficial parallels (as you can see, we have not been able to fully resist the temptation ourselves), but it remains remarkable that a Canadian band can excel in the execution of a forgotten art from across the ocean. As such, On The Path To Triumph is the ultimate tribute to the Old Masters. And the proof that originality in itself need not be considered a virtue.
On The Path To Triumph can be bought now at Tour de Garde.
Pagan Hellfire is:
Incarnatus – all instruments, vocals
1. Only Death’s Call (10:23)
2. Of Wind And Storm (5:55)
3. The Fire Of A New Dawn (5:43)
4. Highest Peaks Of The North (6:40)
5. What Has Always Been (8:19)
6. Monuments Of Victories Forgotten (7:42)
7. An Oath Drawn In Blood (5:57)
Total running time: 50:39
Our review of Akitsa – Au crépuscule de l’espérance
Our review of Nokturnal Mortum – The Voice of Steel
Our review of Kawir – Dei Kabeiroi
Our review of Zemial – I Am The Dark
Blackgaze does not exist (article)
Music listened to during this review: Pagan Hellfire, Darkthrone, Ultima Thule
Beer consumed during this review: Iki