Friday, December 2, 2011
Daemonheim - Schlachtfeld Review
I bought this completely unknown German black metal album once as part of a large blind purchase. I think it cost me $5 and was later reduced to $3 from the now defunct None More Black distro, which is to date the biggest bargain I've ever stumbled across in my life.
I did get to hear a rather cool 20 second sample from "Als Rabenscharen Flohen" before purchasing, and whilst I anticipated something with good atmosphere, I did not expect this. Schlachtfeld is not an album that deserves to be sold for three dollars in struggling underground stores, it's a wonderful album that should well eclipse 99% of well-known black metal to anyone that hears it. That seems to be the problem - I can't even call this underrated as it's really just completely unknown. Put it down to bad luck or just to bad promoion, whatever the reason, Daemonheim deserve recognition and respect as Schlachtfeld is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Daemonheim know how to write riffs. It would be an insult to start a review of the music here without starting there. It's rare that a black metal band can even turn out a handful of riffs this quality across their entire career, however, Schlachtfeld just never lets in, every riff is phenomenal and every time they introduce a new one it never disappoints. The style of black metal played has a battle/pagan aesthetic with a real medieval sense of melody (which seems to be pretty common with German black metal I've noticed). The compositions are fully-realised and complete-sounding. A lot of random obscure black metal albums tend to have songs sounding more like back-to-back riff demonstrations than actual compositions, but Daemonheim are no amateurs, the songs are more than just coherent and flow beautifully, with both recurring segments and completely unique passages that crop up once and then are never heard again. Nothing sounds abrupt or unnatural. I'm not saying a band deserves merit because of this alone, but once you hear the compositions you'll know what I mean - it's sad and bizarre that this stuff is rotting away on the underground when it easily deserves a bigger release and more widespread distribution.
The language barrier doesn't do a lot to dilute the atmosphere, and while I don't know the specifics, the obvious pagan mood isn't exactly disguised. This is music of ancient ways and natural landscapes - not impressive or unique in concept but in execution. It's not just the awe-inspiring sense of melody that the band possess, but other unique features that contribute to the overall quality a great deal. Firstly, although the bulk of the riffing here deals with those epic, Pagan melodies (yes, I'm aware that Pagan isn't really a musical descriptive, but I know you know very well what I mean by it) are the occasional rocking riffs. I'm not a fan of the whole black 'n' roll thing at all, but when Daemonheim occasionally drop into their groovier, mid-paced, sort of bouncier segments it works flawlessly despite the fact that it probably shouldn't. Yes they sound like rock riffs, but they don't make you want to headbang nor do they inspire imagery of leather jackets and devil horns. Rather, they blend into the mood of the track and compliment the more medieval, almost neoclassical vibe perfectly. There really doesn't seem to be a strict rulebook here as to what the band is allowed to do, I swear there's one riff in the second track that could have easily come off of an old In Flames album, and towards the end of "Als Rabenscharen Flohen" the band cuts out the aggression and drops into a sort of German folk segment. Despite the varied sources of inspiration everything comes together as one. The whole album makes perfect sense despite the potentially jarring influences present.
The drumming is fantastic. Lush and organic, with a wonderful sense of pacing as well as variation - rock beats, double bass and blast beats all play equal roles and just like the varied riffing style, this all comes together as a coherent whole. The blastbeats are particularly interesting, sounding like they're played entirely on the bass drum with no high snare attacks whatsoever, gives the blast sections a very unique rushing feel as the drums provide a rumbling undercurrent rather than riding over everything. I'm not a drummer so it's hard to pick apart his performance for the sake of reviewing, but I know a quality drum performance when I hear it, all the little intricacies with the cymbals and such. Very impressive.
Finally, something has to be said about the vocals. This is pretty much the quintessential German black metal vocal performance. He doesn't really sound much like any of the old Norse guard. The strong accent is unmistakable, but the delivery is very unique too, with a kind of scattered, rushed, rambling quality - they seem to race with the music in a way that's difficult to describe. Suffice to say they work very well, and pretty much stand alone in their distinctiveness, I mean you can hear some influence from Bethlehem but I was never a fan of their vocal performances (or music in general), here it's used way more subtly and maturely, working with the music as opposed to against it.
There are still lots of cheap copies of this floating about the underground, and although it lacks critical acclaim I can assure you this is one of the best melodic black metal albums of the 00s if not the best (it's my favourite anyway). The generic shield and ravens cover art might not do much to catch your eye but you should know by now to never judge an obscure German black metal album by its cover.