The Black
Alongside Death

Not too long ago, I was wondering why we hadn’t yet seen a metal band simply called The Black. Turns out that I just hadn’t heard of them, which is not surprising, since they haven’t released an album since 1994. (Funny, considering I just reviewed the new Nazxul, which has also appeared after a fourteen-year drought). Back then, vocals for The Black were performed by Rietas, who you may know as Dissection’s Jon Nödtveidt. Of course, Nödtveidt didn’t make it for the reunion this time, but the band’s early 90s black metal aesthetic survived the trip.

I’m not sure what the years have done to The Black’s original line-up, but some digging in the Metal Archives shows that two-thirds of the band is now made up of members of Vinterland, with the third member coming from Eternal Darkness. Haven’t heard either of those acts, so I can’t compare, but Alongside Death sounds real old-school, with a couple of modern, almost post-black touches as well.

The attack begins with short, violent opener “On the Descent to Hell” – a barely-two-minute blizzard of blastbeats and sick, misshapen riffs that comes off like a mix of Mayhem and Leviathan. The wet, gargled vocals also take a big cue from Wrest, although they’re more aggressive than his usually ponderous, mysterious delivery. Follow-up “Death’s Crown” is equally as nasty and typically Nordic, walking the dagger’s edge between chaos and clarity, and it’s here that the raw-yet-nuanced production really stands out. Makes you wish that a band like Satyricon had never ponied up the funds to pay for the cleaned-up, sterile production of their recent efforts.

Speaking of Satyricon, it seems The Black count them as a major influence as well, as the rest of the album sounds like a mix of that band’s output, both recent and classic. “A Contract Written in Ashes” and “Dead Seed” are slithery, crawling dirges, although “Contract,” as well as “Fleshless,” pick up to a dirty black n’ roll tempo. They sound a lot like tracks on Volcano and Now Diabolical, whereas “Death Throes,” with its churning percussion and undulating riffs, recalls The Shadowthrone instead (and the track “Woods to Eternity” in particular). The Black does crank up the pace again for the closing title track, though it’s largely comprised of the same clipped, thorny guitarwork as the rest of slower pieces, so even with the increase in speed, it comes off as slightly redundant.

While I do like the filthy, miserable vibe that The Black have created, Alongside Death suffers from uneven pacing. The austere tracks that dominate the album’s midsection are still well-crafted, but after that firebomb of an opener, the album as a whole is a bit of a drag. Hopefully next time around they’ll craft a more balanced experience – more of The Black and less of The Bleak. And let’s hope it’s not another fourteen years before we get it.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 21st, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: chris s.

    I am going to have to check this out, especially after seeing the Eternal Darkness name drop, one of the best old swedish death metal bands. Too bad they never got the credit they deserved.


  2. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Eternal Darkness is an excellent Stockholm-sound death metal band while Vinterland is a melodic death/black beast in the mold of Dissection or Necrophobic. You need to check both of them out, dude.


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