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The Final War Approaching (2001)
 

The Final War Approaching is the first full-length album from Sweden's Armagedda. It was released in 2001 through Breath of Night Records. I believe this band came recommended by a friend while I was in Sweden, though the exact details elude me. However, what I do remember is that the first song that I heard from Armagedda seemed promising enough for me to seek the album out and give them a shot. Hearing that they shared some acquaintances, at the very least, with Watain also added some anticipation. In the end, I found it to be forgettable and a little disappointing.

To just come out and state the obvious, this band is one of the countless Darkthrone clones that sprang up around the end of the last century. With this in mind, I still hoped for better results, but the album is just too inconsistent. The production is raw and attempts to capture the feeling from Transilvanian Hunger, but does not come close. It possesses a rather amateurish quality that betrays the lack of knowledge of the individuals involved. Of course, one can tell that they have good taste; at least they are emulating a good band. However, they are not really adding anything unique into the mix. The first track, "Deathminded", is pretty decent and features a handful of nice riffs, but just comes off as trying too hard to recreate the past. It also drags a bit. Even the shorter songs feel as though they are much longer, as the arrangements just are not all that engaging. "Skogens Mörka Djup" is one the exceptions, as its length and approach suits the slow and mournful pace. Overall, this material needed a lot more work and the majority of it comes off as highly derivative with nothing worthwhile added.

The production is awful in that the drumming is too loud and the piss-poor vocals are also too high in the mix. A few of the songs even sound as if they were not recorded during the same session (possibly not at the same studio). This is unacceptable and destroys what little continuity the album had going for it. As for the vocals, Graav is simply awful at this. He sounds like he is chewing his own face, and it does not come off as grim or evil, it just sounds like hell. I get an image of someone small, frail and extremely feeble when I hear his vocals. It is as if he was trying too hard to achieve a sound that he just could not pull off. The end result is something comical, in a way.

The Final War Approaching is not all bad. The musicianship is solid enough. The drumming shows an understanding of minimalist playing, according to Fenriz, and rarely going overboard with the unnecessary fills and so on. The weaknesses are mostly apparent when the songs slow down. The same is true for the guitar playing, as it only comes off as sloppy during the slower parts. When things are moving at a fast tempo, everything sounds as it should. If this was a simple demo release, it would actually give a better impression. Nevertheless, as a full-length album, it does not measure up. They would have done better to work on the material longer, getting rid of useless riffs and also putting more effort into injecting the music with a bit of their own identity instead of trying so hard to pick up where Darkthrone left off. The album is decent for what it is, but could have used a lot of improvement.
 
(12 Sept. 2011)

 
 

These days, rather than spend some years playing small gigs and recording demos, many bands skip straight to putting out a full-length album, whether or not they are truly prepared for such an undertaking. Often, it turns out that their debut albums are released prematurely, before the material has had time to really take shape and reach its maximum potential. As a matter of fact, it seems that a lot of bands hardly bother to really find their style and fully commit to a direction before getting a record deal. Such was the case with Sweden's Armagedda, whose 2001 album The Final War Approaching was inconsistent and not really worth much attention. However, some bands actually learn from their mistakes and improve upon them, which is what these guys did by the time they got around to recording their sophomore album. Spawned from Necromorbus Studio, under the watchful eye of Tore Stjerna, 2003's Only True Believers displayed a band that was far more capable than what one would have expected.

It was in the early months of 2004 when I discovered this album, though I had been aware of it since before it was even officially released. Still living in Stockholm, I had many opportunities to pick this up, but the band's first effort left a bad taste in my mouth and I had written them off as negligible. At the time, I was still too busy listening to Watain's recent release, Casus Luciferi, to pay much attention. Eventually, I got curious enough to give it a quick listen, particularly after hearing that Erik had played drums on the record. I was not immediately impressed, since I was comparing it to other albums, but when listening to it right after their feeble debut, I could not help but appreciate the improvement that had been made.

"Refuse the Blood of Jesus" begins with a ridiculous intro that actually started things off on the wrong foot. This has been the case with many that have heard this record, and it is something of a mystery that they would include this. At any rate, once the song begins, one can immediately tell that the band has come a long way since their first album. The songwriting is more concise and less derivative. Of course, the influences are still apparent, but the sense of outright plagiarism is absent, this time around. The playing is tighter and the overall feeling is that Armagedda is a serious band rather than children imitating their idols. The opener is rather fast-paced throughout, with various tempo changes and a lot of variety in the riffs and drumming.

The title track keeps this up, and one can get a sense that Graav has finally come into his own as a vocalist. It is not totally different from his sound on The Final War Approaching, but it comes off as less comical and it no longer feels that he is trying too hard to sound evil. The production is a lot stronger, not overdone in the slightest, but more full and possessing more of a punch. Somehow, it is more reminiscent of Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky, whereas its predecessor was going for the more necro sound of Transilvanian Hunger.

"Emperor from the Eternal Dark" is next, and this is one of the true highlights of the album. It starts with an almost upbeat rhythm, but an eerie part soon creeps in and slowly corrupts the sounds that bleed from the speakers. The main riff of the song is a standard tremolo melody that is driven along with the skilled drumming of Hor. The riff changes help the song maintain the listener's interest, and the brief lead solo possesses a morbid feeling. The track never delves to the depths of the abyss, but the listener gets a glimpse of such horrors and this serves as a bit of foreshadowing. Otherwise, the song is fast-paced and straightforward, yet interesting.

The next song is "For I Am His Slave", which almost hints at some later Darkthrone (for the time), but actually managed to pull of the necro Black Metal feeling far better than they were capable of at this point in their career. By the middle of the song, they inject an old school section that sort of reminds one of Hellhammer or Celtic Frost, but not too overtly. It goes back and forth between these riffs again, sort of dragging on a little longer than such ideas deserved.

"Poetry from a Poisoned Mind" is another one of the best songs on here, possibly ranking first. It starts out at full speed, with wicked vocals and unsettling riffs. This absolutely destroys anything from the first album, and shows that the band worked hard to realize their potential. The middle section is the best, with the eerie riff and the ghastly vocal work. The atmosphere is utterly morbid and consumed with darkness. This is the type of feeling that Black Metal bands should seek to imbue their listeners with. The tremolo riff that follows this is mournful and still black as night. Everything, from the guitar melodies to the subtle drum techniques, comes together to create what is, quite possibly, the best song that this band ever recorded. It fills your mind with visions of misery and death, feeding the growing urge to slice open your veins and spill your blood under the empty nightsky.

The pace picks up a bit with "Demons", though it features some random tempo changes. I am not sure if it is just the unfortunate position that this song holds on the album, following such a masterful performance, of if the track is filler, but it does not really grab my attention in any way. At first glance, it seems just as solid as the preceding tracks, but it is lacking something.

"FTW" slows things to more of a mid-paced gallop, reminiscent of early Darkthrone. Though the band is still unable to fully escape this, they do far more more with the influence and actually add their own ideas to the mix, so the end result is much more enjoyable. Some clean guitar is utilized, adding a nice effect, albeit briefly. This track is one of the longer ones, clocking in around six minutes, but the execution enables it to keep some level of interest. While there is still a hint of the nightmarish tone from earlier, the song lacks the overpowering morbidity of some of the other pieces.

The album concludes with "Endless Fields of Sorrow", which is a slow-paced song with a rather sorrowful and hopeless feeling. The riffs hearken back to early Darkthrone, as well as hints of Burzum and the old Mütiilation material. It possesses kind of a droning, depressive atmosphere, despite the faster parts that come and go. Like the filthy rats that we all are, these sounds lure us out of our shadowed dwellings and down the path toward the endless graveyard that rests atop the mouth of hell. The most epic melodies of the entire record are found here, causing this track to stand out from many of the others. As the album ends on such a dreary note, the listener can feel the life being drained from him.

"Over empty fields of nothingness
Through everlasting darkness
Follow the path, away from mortal life
Soon i will be there"

Only True Believers is a very solid album and well worth checking out. Everything has improved from The Final War Approaching, from the production job to the songwriting itself. While the Darkthrone influences are still easily detected, the band did something very important that they failed to do the first time around: they infused their tribute with a few original ideas and ended up with a much more impressive record for their efforts. This album is not a classic, for it is still too derivative and simply emerged in the wrong era to have any real impact; nevertheless, for anyone interested in this style it is highly recommended.
 
(13 Sept. 2011)

 
 

Ond Spiritism: Djæfvulens Skalder is the third, and final, full-length album from Armagedda, released in 2004 on Agonia Records. Though their work was still showing overt influences from others, the band seemed to find their path with the previous album, Only True Believers. However, their third album is a little less consistent and gives off the impression that they had just discovered Bethlehem, as well as getting better acquainted with the old Burzum albums. Getting bored with playing Black Metal and seeking to move on to something else, A. and Graav decided to lay the band to rest after this recording, which proved to be somewhat lackluster.

"Helvetestoner" begins with a clean guitar passage that lasts far too long and does not fit in well with the rest. Once the track really gets going, things seem a little more interesting. The morbid riffs are accompanied by the chiming of a funeral bell. This seems to pick up from where "Endless Fields of Sorrow" left off, opting for a slower approach and a more dismal atmosphere. The production is quite similar, though a little more cleaned-up, perhaps. Graav's vocals have continued to develop, utilizing a sound that moves between a raspy growl and the strained voice of a human in pain. The riffs are not the best, but do a decent job of conveying the desired feeling. There is a mournful melody that arrives late in the song, adding a bit of depth to the track.

The next song starts out in a manner similar to the first, which is a bit annoying. Whatever they were trying to accomplish should have been re-worked. "Döpt I oheligt vatten" takes a minute or so to really get underway, though the listener's patience may run thin by that point. There is an eerie, otherworldly vibe present here, due to the clean guitar parts that accompany the main riffs. It sounds out of place and, though one can tell that they had something interesting in mind, the execution of the idea was not successful. This track seems more reminiscent of the band's first effort, The Final War Approaching, as it is boring and comes off as haphazard and uninspired.

"Afsked" skips the nonsense and gets right to the point. Unfortunately, the riffs are mediocre and the song falls flat. Some blast beats are utilized near the end, but even this part is ruined by the ridiculous clean voice. It would not have matter much, anyway, as the riffs are generic and pointless.

"Ændalykt" is the longest song here, clocking in at nine and a half minutes. The pace is a bit faster and the riffs actually possess a gloomy feeling. The pace increases as the track progresses, and the riffs maintain the same dismal and morose atmosphere, with everything falling into place, finally. Some of the melodies remind of Darkthrone, but not in such an obvious way. The drumming helps differentiate it, also, and the fact that the double bass is buried deep in the mix prevents the song from sounding terribly modern. Later in the track, the guitar melody is left alone, more or less, and this adds to the sombre vibe. While this song can seem a little repetitious, at times, this works to the its benefit and enables the riffs to really work into the subconscious of the listener. Things slow down, near the end, and the guitar riffs rip into your chest. A feeling of lifelessness creeps over you, threatening to strangle the last bits of hope that you possess.

The track that follows, "Döden styr livet", is another boring piece that further exemplifies the great departure from the previous album, in terms of style and quality. As the record continues, it becomes more and more clear why the members decided to put an end to the band.

"Gravgaardspsalm" is an instrumental that would have worked better had the last song been cut from the album. It features some eerie guitar work and the sound of falling rain, but not much else.

"Afgrundsvisioner" is one of the best songs on this album; i.e. one of only two or three that are worth listening to. It starts out with fast tremolo riffs, blasting drums and grim vocals that all hearken back to the early days of Darkthrone, before the pace slows a bit and the Burzum influence takes over. This song actually features a good amount of variation in tempo and the different riffs all flow together nicely. The atmosphere is morbid and gloomy, though not sorrowful as some of the other tracks attempt.

As for the outro, it serves no purpose and is merely there to fill space. It is annoying that so many bands feel the need to include intro and outro tracks that do absolutely nothing, as if they are simply fulfilling some obligation.

Ond Spiritism: Djæfvulens Skalder is a weak album and should be neglected in favour of Only True Believers. This would have been better if it had this been reduced to only three tracks and released as an E.P. Do not be fooled into thinking this is anything more than a mediocre attempt at seeming different and progressive, when it really just points to the creative bankruptcy of the band members and the fact that they both preferred to be playing folk rock.
 
(3 Nov. 2011)
















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