Album Review: URGEHAL Aeons in Sodom
There are many ways to memorialize a fallen band leader. One is to stop playing completely. Another is to forge on with a different figurehead, audience loyalty be damned. Of course, there is something of a middle ground possible in efforts like Urgehal’s Aeons of Sodom. Guitarist and lead singer Trond “Trondr Nefas” Bråthen passed away of natural causes back in 2012 (seems like a strange cause of death for a 34-year old, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment), and happened to leave behind enough riffs for the band to put toward one last release.
But, since there were no vocals left to work with, Urgehal gathered a Norwegian Black Metal Justice League of stand-ins to take his place: Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone), M. Shax (Endezzma), Hoest (Taake), Niklas Kvarforth (Shining), Sorath Northgrove (Beastcraft/Vulture Lord), Nattefrost (Carpathian Forest), Nag (Tsjuder), Bay Cortez (Sadistic Intent) and R.M (Angst Skvadron). In theory, this makes for a potentially earth-shattering display of black metal brilliance. In practice, it comes close a few times, but tends to play more like Urgehal’s actual output: very good black metal that doesn’t really do much to stand out. Like many other bands of a similar style (Behexen comes to mind, some mid-to-later Immortal as well), Urgehal tended to make fast, Marduk-influenced black metal that actively embodied (or went out of its way to represent) many of the genre’s stereotypes, but sometimes missed the point of what make the genre so great. With their crisper production and reliance on speed and brutal consistency, most Urgehal records strike the listener the way run-of-the-mill thrash or death metal would. There’s plenty of darkness, blast-beats and rage in an Urgehal record, but not a lot of atmosphere.
But sometimes you don’t need atmosphere. Sometimes you just want the destruction of your feeble senses and emotions. And Aeons in Sodom can certainly satisfy this desire.
Perhaps it’s for this reason then that certain singers can make the style gel better than others. A good example would be Nag’s track, “Psychedelic Evil.” Tsjuder has always had a level of bombast that gels fits nicely here. It’s also kind of cool to hear Sepultura’s early “Funeral Rites” given the modern treatment…though it kind of defeats the purpose of what makes it a classic (that atmosphere again). The Nocturno Culto track, “The Iron Triangle” sound like a mix of “In the Shadow of the Horns,” Krieg’s “The Sick Winds Stir the Cold Dawn” and Darkthrone’s modern sound. There’s a bit of Goatwhore in there too perhaps (through the whole record actually, though I’m sure that’s unintentional).
Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth’s makes an excellent contribution as well to the punishing romp through “Norwegian Blood and Crystal Lakes.” Despite the slick production here, the track comes closest to capture the raw, mist-laden aura embodied by black metal at its best.
Otherwise, I’d characterize much of Aeons in Sodom as “too perfect,” if that makes sense. The instruments are all clear, well-balanced, the timing is 100% on-point – everything is “in it’s rightful place.” And in a sense, I feel the band could care less about what a reviewer like myself thinks of this record. As a tribute album make by a group of black metal brethren, it’s goal is more of an homage than a stylistic landmark.
Favorite Songs: “Norwegian Blood and Crystal Lakes,” “Psychedelic Evil”