Naglfar’s second album, Diabolical, is still one of the most successful ‘cold’ purchases I’ve ever made. And by cold, I don’t mean frosty black metal, although that obviously applies. No, in this case, I mean that I’d never heard the band before, and bought the album on a whim. This was back in 1999, the store in question was San Francisco’s Amoeba Records, and the recommendation card attached to Diabolical (in the store’s still-epic black metal section), simply stated “for fans of Dissection and Sacramentum.” That description did not disappoint. Diabolical (even moreso than the debut, Vittra) was a fierce, ripping northern gale, full of venomous vocals and blistering, icy minor-key melodies. I loved it, and I wanted more.

And more is what I got. A few years later, Naglfar dropped the Ex Inferis EP and its full-length follow-up, Sheol, now backed by a Century Media budget. The production was heavier and more polished, and the songwriting a bit more streamlined, but it was still vicious (and very listenable). After that came Pariah, basically the same as Sheol except for a successful change-out of original vocalist Jens Ryden for bassist Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius. And then came Harvest, more of the same. And then, a long break.

5 years later, the band has dropped Teras, and it appears that Naglfar has spent that time locked in ice. Now that they’re thawed out, they’ve picked up right where they’ve left off. This time though, the blizzard is a bit more coarse, and the whipping winds a bit more raw, and some of that polished sheen has been blown away.

You’ll hear that right away in “Pale Horse,” which explodes out of the gate with a renewed energy and a rougher, rawer sound. It’s still quintessential melodic black metal, all gleaming hooks and blizzard battery. Yet it’s also more layered and less predictable than before, with some choppier riffs and a stately, heaving midsection. Olivius’ performance seems more dynamic and caustic too, even bestial at times. “III: Death Dimension Phantasma” is also a more clattery, ferocious version of Naglfar’s signature sound, and “The Monolith” is magisterial and forbidding. For awhile, my hopes rise that Teras will offer enough of a change to be the band’s most memorable album in years.

However, I quickly realize that I’ve weathered this storm before. One after the other, from “Extension of His Arm and Will” to “Come, Perdition” and all the way to album closer “Dying Flame of Existence,” I hear the same minor-key black metal melodies that Naglfar (and lots of other bands in the genre, everyone from Dark Funeral to Watain) has used before, over and over. (This is also compounded by the fact that I went back and listened to Harvest and Pariah over the past few days to prep for this review.) And although I keep listening to see if anything new will jump out, there aren’t any surprises.

It’s not without its high points, of course – I dig the flattened dissonance that creeps in during “Bring Out Your Dead,” and “Invoc(H)ate” features the album’s most blistering pace and relentless drum performance. Yet aside from the production update (which really isn’t that large of a change after a few songs), Teras is just the latest in a succession of solidly crafted, expertly played but ultimately interchangeable albums.

I’d be naive if I thought that Naglfar was really going to come back with something drastically different. They nailed their sound a long time ago, it works for them and they keep turning out solid albums with it. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t hoping for at least some sort of progression or mutation, though – some different or unexpected melodies, or at least some more varied song structures. Ah well. Bottom line – if you’re new to Naglfar or melodic black metal in general, get this. It’s fast, vicious and listenable. If you’ve been into this stuff for awhile though, you’d be better served checking out something more adventurous like the new Griffar.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
April 10th, 2012


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