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Dark Funeral (1994)

Dark Funeral was formed in 1993, by Blackmoon and Lord Ahriman. Blackmoon had already founded the Satanic death metal band, Necrophobic, releasing The Nocturnal Silence. Joined by Themgoroth and Draugen, the band entered Dan Swanö's Hellspawn/Unisound Studios to record the Dark Funeral E.P.

"Open the Gates" begins this debut release with hellish fury, before going into a very oldschool section. Blackmoon's riffs, as always, have a very nocturnal feeling to them. Themgoroth's vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Hat (of Gorgoroth). While being executed in a different style, this really does create the same kind of atmosphere as Necrophobic.

"Shadows Over Transilvania" features some brilliant tremolo riffs and a sinister atmosphere that is only accentuated by Themgoroth's vocal performance. There are a handful of tempo changes, with the song slowing down a bit, near the end. This Swedish cult is definitely rooted in the older bands.

"My Dark Desires" continues the Satanic assault. One notices that the production os a lot closer to that of Marduk's Those of the Unlight. Perhaps the EP would have sounded even better if they had managed to get the same sound that Dissection did on The Somberlain (which was recorded at the same studio). About half-way through the song, the pace slows down and the melodies really take you into the night sky, beyond the realm of the living. Themgoroth's infernal vocals can be considered nothing less than a demonic possession captured on tape.

This final song opens with some of the best riffs of the album, melodies that will remain with you long after the song has concluded. "In the Sign of the Horns" expresses the desire to go from the world of light and to be embraced by darkness, for ever. As can be said for the rest of the album, the cold nocturnal melodies wrap around your throat and the hellish vocals summon forth the dark lord.

"In the sign of the horns
Come and take my life
In the sign of the horns
I must die"

Believe it or not, Dark Funeral was once a good band, prior to making music only to please the masses and having a rockstar mentality. This E.P. is absolute proof of the band's worth, in the long-forgotten past. If you have only been exposed to those later recordings, you owe it to yourself to seek this E.P. out. For that matter, it is recommended that you also listen to The Secrets of the Black Arts, as well. Beyond these two releases, consider the band irrelevant.
(3 Feb. 2009)

The Secrets of the Black Arts (1996)

The Secrets of the Black Arts is the first full-length album from the Swedish black metal band, Dark Funeral. It features cover artwork from the legendary Necrolord. Originally, this was recorded at Dan Swanö's Hellspawn/Unisound Studios, the same as the self-titled E.P., but Blackmoon was dissatisfied with the sound, insisting that it be re-recorded at Peter Tägtgren's Studio Abyss. As somewhat of a perfectionist, he fought hard to not release the first version of the album. The sound is a vast improvement over their previous release, which is odd to say as the Abyss sound is not always so good; however, on this album it was done just right and there is little to complain about. After this, many other bands began using the same studio.

When most people think of Dark Funeral, a very useless band comes to mind. You are filled with apathy at the thought of a meaningless style of music, which seems to be made to please the ignorant masses. This is understandable, as the band has not been relevant in many years. Yet The Secrets of the Black Arts is from a different time. At this point, Necrophobic-mastermind, David Parland (Blackmoon) was still the main creative force and the music benefits from this. As a matter of fact, Lord Ahriman was so intoxicated during the recording process that Blackmoon often played both guitar parts.

My first encounter with this band was around the release of Vobiscum Satanas, which made a bad impression. Actually, it was so bad that I almost didn't bother to listen to their earlier material. However, as I glanced over their debut L.P. for a brief moment, something caught my eye. I noticed David Parland on the back cover and, being a fan of his work in Necrophobic, I knew that I had to give this a listen. In some ways, this could be considered a companion piece to their second album, Darkside.

The Secrets of the Black Arts begins with a very brief intro, "The Dark Age Has Arrived". This does little more than to lower the listener's guard. As you put the CD in, you are expecting something, of course. This intro helps to maximize the impact as the first real song erupts with hellish blasphemy.

Spilling forth from the gates of Hell, the title track begins with icy cold tremolo riffs, blast beats and some of the most demonic vocals, ever. The one thing that seems to dominate the sound is the guitars, which is as it should be. The songwriting is nothing short of amazing, as everything is arranged perfectly. Even the drumming has enough slight variation to keep things from being boring or too typical. The freezing melodies possess a very nocturnal quality.

"My Dark Desires" is a little less violent than the previous song. This song first appeared on the Dark Funeral E.P. This new version would seem to be the superior one, especially considering Themgoroth's evil and maniacal vocal performance. The fast parts are always well-balanced with more mid-paced overtures, in order to give oxygen to the sinister energy that lies among these notes. So often, the glacial, sharp touch of the guitars is mixed with dark, gloomy melodies and this adds a sense of ritualism to the sound.

"The Dawn No More Rises" begins with a slow pace, but not for very long. Themgoroth's hellish vocals rise from the abyss like a chorus of demons and the song explodes with malevolence. The tremolo melodies are like razors of ice, carving through your flesh, creating a grim and cold nocturnal atmosphere. This song goes well with Immortal's "The Sun No Longer Rises", Marduk's "The Sun Has Failed" and Sacramentum's "Far Away From the Sun" as yet another cold northern hymn of darkness.

The next song starts off as if already in progress. "When Angels Forever Die". This song is actually more straight-forward and, probably, used as a template for the band's later sound. The difference is that, although this is pure tremolo riffs and blast beats all the way through, the dark and sinister feeling is never lost. It is done with purpose and accomplishes its goal.

"The Fire Eternal" continues on with this hellish pace, yet is is easily discernable from the previous song. There is more of a somber element to the melodies on this song. Technically speaking, there is nothing groundbreaking, here; minor chords, tremolo strummed with a treble heavy guitar tone, arranged into riffs which shift in dissonant and chromatic fashion. The important thing is that this all comes together in creating a sense of darkness and evil. That is what separates this release from so many others; everything is done for a reason.

"Satan's Mayhem" features simple and cold melodies that often move counter to the harmonies in a device to create tension and an unsettling sensation of fundamental dischord. Themgoroth sounds as if his throat is being shredded, yet he never relents. The furious and intense drumming of Equimanthorn is very precise. Blackmoon's dark and frigid guitars serve as the centerpiece of the song.

"Shadows Over Transilvania" is another song that was originally released on the debut E.P. It is difficult to decide which version is preferable, as the original is probably more familiar, yet the guitar tone is superior on the L.P., in most places. All in all, it was probably done better the first time. This is one of the best songs on the album, as it is morbidly consumed with nocturnal atmosphere. The slower sections and the haunting melodies found therein are key to allowing the sinister energies to grow.

"Bloodfrozen" enters the soundscape with a very slow, doomy pace. The open-arpeggio riffs work well in establishing a dark and sorrowful feeling of dread. As the song speeds up, this feeling remains. Very few guitarists have ever been so successful at harnessing the nocturnal forces quite like Blackmoon. The title of the song is appropriate enough, as the blood freezes in your veins, while listening.

The next song is a cover of Von's "Satanic Blood". There is not much to say about this. It is straight-forward and does not stray from the original. Blackmoon does the vocals on this song. This song doesn't really contain the same atmosphere as the rest of the album. One could say it serves as a break from the rest, so that it is more appreciated when it returns or that it is out of place and, maybe, belonged on an E.P.

"Dark Are the Paths to Eternity (A Summoning Nocturnal)" returns the listener to the cold depths of the nocturnal abyss, bereft of life or light, surrounded by the dark forces from beyond. Themgoroth has become fully possessed, at this point. It is obvious that some vocalists hold back or simply put forth minimal effort, yet one can easily hear all of his being pouring forth in his performance. The riffs are the epitome of true darkness. This is like a hymn to the majesty of the eternal night sky and blackness so dark that even shadows cease to exist. As the song slows down, there is a clean-spoken part that adds to the atmosphere being created by this nocturnal ritual. The guitars are cold as ice and the melodies build a sense of tension, as you are being led toward the great unknown. As the brilliant guitar melodies fade into silence, so too does Dark Funeral's true potential fade into obscurity.
(22 Feb. 2008)


After the recording of their debut album, The Secrets of the Black Arts, Dark Funeral underwent a complete overhaul. First, Themgoroth was replaced by Masse Broberg, now known as Emperor Magus Caligula. Equimanthorn was replaced on drums, by Alzazmon (Tomas Asklund). However, the change that forever crippled the band and left it as merely a shadow of what it once was had to be the departure of Blackmoon. Once his songwriting genius was removed from the equation, the band stagnated and it was very clear who the driving force had been. With a new line-up, Lord Ahriman returned to Abyss Studio in the autumn of 1997 and Vobiscum Satanas was born. It was released by No Fashion in April 1998.

Musically, this is almost a carbon-copy of the band's debut album. Unable to cope with Blackmoon's absence, it seems that Ahriman did his best to mimic the record that made Dark Funeral so popular in the first place, to the best of his abilities. And, truth be told, there are plenty of decent riffs to be found here. The first few songs are somewhat enjoyable, blasting through at an intense pace as cold, nocturnal tremolo riffs weave in and out. "Ravenna Strigoi Mortii" starts things out on a strong note but, by the middle of the album, the repetitive nature of the songwriting begins to wear thin. The material is weaker as well, unable to maintain the momentum built early on.

The production is much clearer than The Secrets of the Black Arts, which is one of the main differences between the two albums. The sense of rawness that existed on the first album is sacrificed for increased clarity, though it does not sound horribly overdone. It suits the music well enough, which utilizes a slightly less violent approach, anyway. The benefit of this is that the guitar riffs are not buried in the mix, as they were on the previous release, allowing the listener to truly hear all that is going on.

The drumming is still a problem, just like on the first album. Tomas Asklund continues what Equimanthorn started, with the overactive percussion that creates too much noise and detracts from the guitar riffs, which should be the primary focus. That said, he has never shown much proficiency for knowing how to best compliment the melodies, so one would be foolish to expect him to possess such wisdom near the beginning of his career.

One of the worst aspects of the album has to be the vocal performance. Masse completely altered his style and sounds nothing like he did on Hypocrisy's first two records, Penetralia and Osculum Obscenum. Of course, it is natural that he would employ a higher-pitched sound since he made the move from death metal to black metal, but his entire technique is utterly different in every way. His voice is very generic and sounds like most other vocalists of the period, almost like a weak imitation of Ihsahn, from Emperor. He ruins several of the songs by not allowing the music to breathe. Whether it is because he wrote too many lyrics or just the fact that his vocal patterns attempt to fill as much time as possible, his voice hardly seems to go away for even a few moments and it takes away from the guitar melodies.

Vobiscum Satanas is the result of a band that had become a caricature of itself. Had this been Dark Funeral's first album, without the foundation that was laid by the earlier releases, chances are that the band would not have existed long enough to make a second one. This record is a failure, epitomizing the words generic and mediocre, and demonstrates that without Blackmoon's creativity, Dark Funeral was but a pale shadow of what they once were. To hear the true continuation of this band's legacy, pick up Infernal's self-titled debut, featuring Blackmoon and Themgoroth. As for this atrocity, avoid it and steer clear of the albums that follow.
(11 Oct. 2011)

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