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Strength and Honour (2001)
 

Satanic Warmaster began as one of the many side-projects of Horna vocalist Nazgul von Armageddon. He left the ranks of that band, following Sudentaival, due to being burned out and wanting to express his musical vision in a different manner (according to various sources). It would not be too surprising if these reasons were true, as his final album with Horna was not the high point of their collaboration and was, in fact, the worst record they ever released. Just about seven months later, in November 2001, the debut album from Satanic Warmaster was released by Mikko Aspa's Northern Heritage Records.

First and foremost, Strength and Honour is everything that Sudentaival was not. While the latter was over-produced and lacked a consistent atmosphere, the former was a return to the past in terms of the raw production and primitive songwriting. Musically, this sounds quite similar to the old material from Graveland and Emperor. The rough sound calls to mind recordings such as Wrath of the TyrantIn the Glare of Burning Churches and The Celtic Winter. The roaring flames in the intro and the recurring keyboard use are elements that are shared between the two. This is emphasized by the drumming, which sometimes utilizes similar patterns, especially on "Raging Fires". However, most of the songs are much more straightforward and less frustrating for those listeners that simply wanted a bit more speed than Darken would ever allow for his compositions. There are still traces of the early Horna sound, though the influences seem to be a little different. Whereas Shatraug's arrangements frequently picked up from where Gorgoroth had left off, Nazgul's songs bear more similarities to Darkthrone and Moonblood, more often than not. The basic formula is rather minimalist, with a lot of gloomy tremolo riffs carried forward by high-speed percussion. The style does not deviate that much, from song to song, yet each track possesses enough variation to maintain the listener's interest, though it can be difficult to distinguish one from the next. There are times when the drum patterns become too catchy and evoke a punk vibe that does not blend well with the guitar melodies, but these indiscretions do not occur enough to ruin the whole album. The outro is a bit long and seems to serve no real purpose, other than to stretch the running time. Still, even if this was completely necessary, it may have been better to make it a separate track. Vocally, the sound is still very high-pitched and is sort of reminiscent of Ihsahn's voice on Wrath of the Tyrant. It suits the raw sound of the music and the overall musical approach, but lacks any real sense of character and is rather average when compared to the more notable Black Metal vocalists of the past.

The most negative aspect of Strength and Honour is the production. Underground Black Metal is supposed to be raw, and this is no exception. In fact, the sound on this record is very much preferred over the horribly slick and soulless vibe of Horna's Sudentaival. That said, the drums are far too high in the mix, with the bass drum being particularly distracting. The songwriting is fairly generic and there is nothing here that had not been done much better a decade earlier; nonetheless, for those people that want to hear more of this style, a more guitar-oriented sound would have been beneficial. For the majority of the album, the riffs are nearly stomped out by the percussion, which is something that should always be avoided. The vocals are a bit too prominent as well, though the problem may actually be that they sound over-saturated in effects. The cheap microphone did not help matters, as certain puffs of air come through far too much and add to the unprofessional quality that permeates this L.P.

Strength and Honour is a fairly mediocre release, though it is actually one of the better albums to bear the Satanic Warmaster name, ranking just below Opferblut. There is nothing about this record that makes it essential for fans of Black Metal, as there were plenty of other bands doing the same style in a much more impressive manner, around the same time that this came out. It is doubtful that it even drew that much attention from fans of the early Horna material, that may have wondered what their ex-vocalist was up to, since Nazgul's style is not very distinguishable. If you do not demand a high level of quality from musicians, then this may be for you. Otherwise, you may want to stick with originators, while ignoring those that tried to emulate them.
 
(7 Mar. 2012)

 
 

Released on Northern Heritage in 2002, the Black Katharsis E.P. features nearly twenty minutes of raw Finnish Black Metal. This offering seems to be somewhat experimental, as the songwriting approach is very consistent and does not seem to possess many similar characteristics with either Strength & Honour or Opferblut. This is not the highpoint of Satanic Warmaster's discography, but it is not without its appeal.

"Remembrance of Times Forgotten" is the highlight of this brief recording. Upon first listen, the mournful tremolo riff and accompanying mid-paced drumming is reminiscent of Burzum, yet the actual guitar melody is of the sort that would go on to make up the bulk of the second Satanic Warmaster effort. It is very haunting and memorable, with a rather introspective and sorrowful quality. The reverb on the vocals adds an obscure quality, with Werwolf's voice reminding one of Ihsahn on Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant. With such a primitive and stripped-down sound, this track would not have been out of place on some mid-'90s Black Metal record. "Cursed Emperor" has more of a harsh feeling, owing some inspiration to Moonblood. The somewhat eerie atmosphere present in the first part of the song is eliminated with the more upbeat riffs and drumming that emerge later on. "...Hiljaisuudesta" takes the rawness to its most extreme, for this recording, almost as if it came from a different session. It's rather aggressive and straightforward, with a part that is similar to something from Watain's first album, probably by coincidence.

All in all, Black Katharsis isn't a bad release, though it lacks a sense of unity and does not quite flow together well. Then again, the purpose of releasing these tracks in this format may have been simply to get them out of the way before moving on to write a more cohesive full-length album, which is precisely what Satanic Warmaster went on to do with Opferblut. While some of the ideas presented here are not so impressive, others are quite good and the first track, alone, is worth picking this up. It has since been re-released, so shouldn't be too difficult to find.
 
(22 Sept. 2009)

 
Opferblut (2003)
 

Opferblut is the second L.P. from Satanic Warmaster. This project was created by former Horna vocalist, Nazgul aka Satanic Tyrant Werwolf. The style here reminds me of Sargeist, in a sense. The music is far more stripped-down and mournful than the work that Werwolf did with Horna, and is somewhat melodic at times. Released in 2003, through No Colours, this is the best full-length to come from this project.

The album begins with the song "Black Destiny". This starts off at full speed with fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums. Lord Sarcofagian did well to study the work of Fenriz, as the drumming is very similar and it is mixed at just the right level. The vocals are mixed well, also, not being too high or too low. Werwolf's style, as in Horna, seems to be quite similar to Hat and Pest, of Gorgoroth. The overall sound owes a lot to the early 90s Norwegian Black Metal scene. In particular, it would seem that these Finns are big Darkthrone fans. That certainly isn't a bad thing, as Darkthrone seemed to give up making that style of music a long time ago. Then again, why would they want to since there are thousands of other bands attempting to emulate them? This song actually features very nice tremolo melodies, memorable riffs and a good structure.

The next song is "Bound in Lust and Hate". This continues with the same fast pace as established on the first song, with very nice melodies, creating a sense of tension as the song builds in intensity. The riffs are very memorable and everything flows nicely. Again, there is nothing very original going on here. If anything, this is more of a tribute to some of the second wave bands. That being said, they do take that foundation and add a little something to it.

On "A Wolf Cries in Anger", the pace slows down a bit and the melodies take an overtly mournful tone. The sound is very similar to Sargeist's Satanic Black Devotion, even the effect on the vocals. While this is raw, it is a little more polished than the Sargeist album. It is also more melodic and not nearly as dark. Everything is executed well, yet there is nothing dangerous about this music. Despite this, it does have some redeeming qualities. The harmonies are very introspective and mournful at times. These will lurk in your mind for some time after listening. Perhaps the thing that Satanic Warmaster adds to the formulaic sound is a certain catchiness that is, somewhat, inherent when it comes to Finnish bands.

"Pentagram & Wood" features some very nice tremolo riffs. It seems strange that so many kids that are new to Black Metal embrace this band as some evil and obscure cult of darkness. Then again, it is easy to see how they are attracted to it as it is catchy and melodic. Each song has its own identity, which is a good thing. There is somewhat of an epic atmosphere created through the brilliant song arrangements. No, this is nothing you haven't heard before, but it is done pretty well.

"A Raven's Song" erupts from the shadows at full speed. Again, it must be noted that the drumming is very suitable for this style of music, being just high enough to keep time but low enough to not distract from the guitars. The simplistic bass lines can be heard, easily, as on Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. As the tempo changes, the unmistakable Finnish melodies are present, which may be the one thing that really sets this off from other bands that exist to pay tribute to the grim cults of Norway. The guitars really work to create a depressive feeling, though never utterly dismal. This song is among the more memorable ones on the album.

The next song is "Rain Falls", which is an instrumental in the vein of "Når Himmelen Klarner" from Burzum's Det Som Engang Var or even "Gjennom Skogen til Blåfjellene" from Isengard's Vinterskugge. This piece creates a very melancholic feeling and allows your mind to drift away into infinite thought.

"Farewell to the Fallen" begins with a total Celtic Frost vibe. After the first minute or so, this transitions to something more akin to Burzum, once more, before speeding up. This may not be the intention of the band, but the music is actually kind of peaceful and enjoyable to listen to.

As shown with the Pest project, Werwolf is very skilled at emulating those he admires. This shows very well, throughout Opferblut, though Satanic Warmaster fails to sound as dark and evil as the bands that they hail, such as Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum and Gorgoroth. Despite that, it is easy to appreciate this album for what it is, especially considering the atmosphere of melancholy that hovers over this. While not being quite as raw as some bands, this doesn't sound slick or over-produced. Anyone with a bad taste in their mouth from Horna's Sudentaival need not worry.

This is recommended for those who aren't looking for anything original. Out of the countless bands that play this same style, Satanic Warmaster proved to be somewhat competent, on this album at least. This is, more or less, the only release of theirs that might be worth picking up. That said, it does not come nearly as close to capturing the dark feeling of the old Norwegian bands as fellow Finnish groups like Sargeist and Clandestine Blaze. This is a band whose popularity has been cultivated through image and marketing, making millions of pathetic internet kids think that this is the epitome of true Black Metal. If anything, this should serve as a gateway, imbuing you with the desire to seek out the true originators of this sound.
 
(8 Nov. 2006)

 
 

In late 2003, Werwolf of Satanic Warmaster and Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze came up with the idea to do a split that featured both bands. However, their approach to this was a little unconventional. With both of them being the sole member of their respective bands, they decided to include a few collaborative tracks. So, to go along with the one song, a piece, that each band contributed, they also recorded four as a two-piece. Werwolf handled the guitars and bass, while Mikko takes care of the drumming. They trade off on the vocals, each writing their own lyrics. The results were released through Northern Heritage, in February 2004.

The split begins with "Intro/My Torments", the intro being adequate enough, almost reminiscent of something from the Hellraiser series. After a couple minutes, it fades as Werwolf begins to scream and the guitars follow. He handles the vocals, on this song, though one might guess that Mikko had some input regarding the opening riff. About four minutes in, the song finally starts. The vocals are weak and the drums are mixed too high. It's very fast-paced, in the vein of Transilvanian Hunger. To be honest, though both bands have long used the aforementioned album as a template for their own works, they usually added a bit of their own feeling to the songs. Here, it seems more generic than usual. The production quality is similar to a garage rehearsal, though this isn't always a bad thing. In this case, it drags the music down, a slight bit. All in all, a below average start for the split.

"Sacrificial Fires" starts with some feedback, before going into a slow Celtic Frost-inspired riff. This song was, obviously, written by Mikko as he has a tendency to include similar songs on every single release in Clandestine Blaze's discography. It's not terribly bad, but it's grown a little boring by this point. Some riffs are taken directly from Morbid Tales, only slowed down a bit. I guess this is fitting, since Gabriel had previously stolen the riff from Venom. So far, this split is hardly worth the effort of taking the CD out of its case.

The next song, "Conspiring Winds of the Abyss", starts out with more feedback. This is already annoying. Thankfully, it's one of the better songs on here. Werwolf is back on vocals, as the song is yet another tribute to Transilvanian Hunger. It consists of cold tremolo riffs and fast drumming. The vocals are a far cry from the masterful work of Nocturno Culto, but that's no surprise. The main riff is one of the best on the split. It's completely derivative of Darkthrone, but at least it's done competently enough. The pace slows down, near the middle, giving a nice eerie feeling. This doesn't last too long, though it produces a nice trance-like riff that is reminiscent of early Mütiilation.

"Disease" is another song with Mikko on vocals, beginning with even more feedback. He really lets loose on this song, with some shrieking mixing in with his usual vocals. Musically, it's another fast-pace, tremolo-driven song in the early Norwegian mould. There's a little variation in the drumming, but this is overshadowed by the fact that Mikko seems to really be struggling to keep up on this track. There is a cool lead solo, late in the song, that kind of salvages things from being excessively boring. It's not too bad, but I expected a little more from both of these guys.

This is followed by a Clandestine Blaze song, "Guided By the Black Light". Here, Mikko returns to the deeper style of vocals that he is known for, while the guitar playing is a little heavier. The slow parts of the song possess an eerie feeling, yielding some haunting melodies. The faster parts are quite awful, really, being poorly executed. It's sad, but I've rehearsed with worthless garage bands that played tighter than this. The worst part is that it's a result of pure laziness, as anyone familiar with Clandestine Blaze knows that Mikko is capable of much better. It is clear that hardly any effort was put into this.

"To the Legions" is a Satanic Warmaster song. The opening is not very good, as the attempt to match the tortured screams of Count Grishnackh come off as laughable. Once beyond this, the rest of the song is actually fairly decent. It features a rather catchy take on the typical Celtic Frost-type rif. The vocals are a bit strained, but far better than the weak screams that opened the track. A few minutes in, the song picks up speed and returns to the Darkthrone worship that preceded this. Despite this, there are also more riffs in the Finnish style that one would expect from the same guy that recorded Opferblut. A lead melody flows through, temporarily, to add some epic sense to the proceedings. Mikko should have played drums on this one as well, since the timing is off at one point. Outside of the first minute, this is probably the most enjoyable song on the album, after "Conspiring Winds of the Abyss". The outro is completely necessary, but it's pleasant enough. It has kind of a somber feeling, which goes nicely with the disappointment that the listeners are surely experiencing.

This split is little more than a Finnish Black Metal tribute to Darkthrone. There are a couple decent songs and a few nice riffs to be found, but it's hardly something that is worth any great amount of effort to track down. I have to say that both of these guys are capable of better, though I get the impression that this release was meant to have that rehearsal/jam feeling. If that is true, they certainly achieved this. The raw production is is fine, but the sloppy playing is unacceptable. Though both bands rely heavily on their influences, they've also managed to incorporate their own style into the mix, moreso in the case of Clandestine Blaze than with Satanic Warmaster. Either way, here, this element seems to be lacking for the most part.
 
(30 Sept. 2009)

 
 

...Of the Night is one of the very best recordings from Satanic Warmaster. Released in May 2004, this E.P. features only two tracks yet clocks in at over twenty minutes. The material presented here is built upon the themes established on Opferblut, then expanded to create something more epic. The end result is a very strong offering from this Finnish Black Metal band.

From the opening chords of the title track, an atmosphere of melancholy unfolds. There is a cold, nocturnal feeling that is carried forth, very much suiting the title of the song. After a minute or so, a haunting tremolo melody emerges from the darkness and freezes the blood in your veins. This is the sort of riff that has hardly been heard since the era of classic Burzum. With the production's focus on highlighting the guitars, there is nothing to hinder the eerie and sombre effect of these brilliant melodies. The repetition also works well to create a somewhat hypnotic feeling. About halfway through, the song shifts from unsettling darkness to a very mournful and grievous vibe that is reminiscent of "A Raven's Song", from Opferblut. "Chronicles of Thy Astral Blood" does well to follow up on this, consisting of mid-paced drumming and melancholic riffs accompanied by tormented screams. Again, one can sense the shadow of Count Grishnackh hovering over the cold winter landscape; however, this results from a discernible influence rather than the outright plagiarism that some bands attempted.

It is safe to say that ...Of the Night is the second best release from Satanic Warmaster, ranking just under Opferblut. Though has Werwolf chosen to craft an entire full-length in this style, it may have even surpassed the aforementioned album as the greatest of his works. While later records were often questionable or inconsistent, this one hits the mark and is recommended listening for those into raw and mournful Finnish Black Metal.
 
(17 Oct. 2015)

 
 

Released in mid-2005, Carelian Satanist Madness is the third and (so far) final full-length from Satanic Warmaster. For the uninitiated, this is raw Finnish Black Metal with influences from the old Norwegian style, in the same vein as Clandestine Blaze and Sargeist, featuring the former vocalist of Horna and Pest. The quality of the record drops off from its predecessor, Opferblut, with some inconsistencies in the songwriting. Despite this, there are still some decent tracks.

The material on this L.P. sort of skips that which was found on ...Of the Night and returns to the more direct and concise approach of the last album. Songs like "The Vampiric Tyrant", "Eaten by Rats" and "666" are quite straightforward and hearken back to the Black Metal of the mid-'90s, consisting of melancholic and sometimes epic tremolo melodies. The songwriting is quite memorable, with the latter track bringing forth an unsettling dreariness. "My Kingdom of Darkness" does not stray too far from this formula, including a haunting tremolo riff that hovers in the distance. "True Blackness" is not a bad song, but somewhat inconsistent with the lifted "Deathcrush" bits standing out from the more melodic melodies; not that the arrangement is awkward, just that the Mayhem worship is quite overt and distracting. "My Dreams of 8" slows things down quite a bit, featuring the sort of open-arpeggio riffs that are also found on the ill-fated title track. It reminds me of I Shalt Become, just not as sorrowful. As for the title being a reference to Hitler, I'd say just be open about it and hail the man and not care what anyone thinks or says about it. Either way, these sort of riffs were handled much better by Varg Vikernes, a dozen years earlier. The outro is not too bad, perhaps a bit long, but works well enough.

The production of Opferblut was preferable to what is found on Carelian Satanist Madness, for my personal taste. Here, the drums are a bit higher in the mix than need be, and the double bass creates a rumbling distortion that is rather unwanted. As such, the coldness of the guitar tone is lessened. As well, the vocals are a little clearer and lack the obscure feeling that was possessed on the last album. Regarding the more negative aspects of the songwriting, it primarily boils down to the lengthy title track. It is seemingly hijacked by a very out-of-place section that possesses an uncharacteristically upbeat vibe. It is quite reminiscent of Absurd's Thuringian Pagan Madness and just does not fit in with the rest of the riffs. This is compounded by the fact that the track is so long and the listener is repeatedly subjected to this. It manages to neutralize the sombre opening riffs and its placement so early in the album means that the rest of the tracks are forced to try cleansing this bad taste from the listener's pallet, rather than purely standing on their own.

All in all, Carelian Satanist Madness is a decent album, especially for the time period during which it was released. It fails to match up to the likes of Envaatnags Eflos Solf Esgantaavne, Disciple of the Heinous Path, or even Rattenkönig, yet it is not bad at all. Had the production been a bit more in line with the somewhat colder and harsher sound of Opferblut, as well as scrapping the title track for ..."Of the Night", this L.P. would have created a better impression. Nonetheless, Satanic Warmaster does its own part in maintaining the traditions set forth in the previous era, something well-needed with the continued rise of plastic, sterile and commercial Black Metal. Fans of previous works will likely find something here to appreciate.
 
(12 Oct. 2009)

 
 

It was a curious path taken by Satanic Warmaster, following Carelian Satanist Madness, to release material only via limited split albums and various EPs. With the band's growing popularity, one would think that these guys would have capitalized on it rather than to exist on the periphery. After five long years, Werwolf finally decided to record another full-length. Released in August 2010, Nachzehrer picks up from where the previous album left off, and shows absolutely no sign of development or improvement. All in all, this is not a very significant collection of songs, even by the band's own standards. Still, it is likely to appeal to the less discerning Black Metal fans of this pathetic era, unaware that most modern releases are pale imitations of what came before.

The first thing that listeners may notice is the extremely lo-fi production, sounding quite a bit like a demo from twenty years earlier. This would not be such a bad thing, except that it is just too thick and muddy, lacking any sort of cold or harsh feeling. The lack of sharpness to the guitar tone adds to the safe and non-threatening sound. This warm vibe works for tracks like "Vampires" and "Bestial Darkness", that include out-of-place Death Metal riffs, but it does not work for the rest of the material. As a result of the thick and percussive sound, many of the better riffs seem somewhat buried and this gives the songs kind of claustrophobic feel. For the most part, the music is rather consistent, albeit amounting mostly to rather generic and more palatable interpretations of real Black Metal, simplified and pre-digested for the masses. That said, there are a handful of decent tremolo melodies, such as those found in "Satan's Werewolf" and "Warmaster Returns". "One Shining Star" isn't too bad, but is very reminiscent of some of the material from Opferblut. It includes some of the better riffs on the album, but one gets the impression of having already heard them.

In the end, there is nothing on this album that has not been heard a dozen times before. Satanic Warmaster often seems to be more about the image and posturing than in achieving a higher level of quality regarding the actual music. There are only two or three decent tracks on here, so it would almost be more fitting to stick with the split releases or to just lay this project to rest and rejoin Horna. If you are a fan, then Nachzehrer should not disappoint, so long as you did not raise your expectations since the last record.
 
(24 Nov. 2011)

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