Summer’s nearly here, and with that comes conversations between friends about chosen songs of the summer and favorite artists to listen to in the sweltering heat. Where answers typically lie among the easygoing and sweet — songs that promote enjoying whatever life throws at you because, hey, it’s nice outside — metalheads find themselves attracted to whatever matches the violence that comes with the inescapable heat, or maybe whatever’s bluesy and sludgy enough to mimic the near suffocating humidity, especially down here in the American south. All that being said, it’s not the sort of weather that you’d associate with the cold and dark expanse that comes with Scandinavian black metal, and yet here are Sweden’s Dark Funeral, releasing their new album at the beginning of June. It’s a brilliant move, too, because Where Shadows Forever Reign deftly navigate black metal’s token atmospherics for pureblooded passion.
This is the same sort of passion that sets Dark Funeral apart from their fellow second-wave black metal pioneers. Where bands like Ulver, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Emperor are currently experimenting outside the confines of the very genre they helped define, Dark Funeral had remained faithful to their establishing pillars both sonically and philosophically. Where Shadows Forever Reign, the band’s sixth full-length, is clear proof of this sort of dedication. In place of experimentation or progression after 23 years in the black metal game, Dark Funeral show instead a maturation on their new album. They’re also working with a new vocalist, Heljarmadr, who easily fulfills that vision. His voice is dynamic and coarse and vicious and sometimes as catchy as these sort of howls and rasps can ever be.
That being said, though, Dark Funeral is still very much the band of its founder and lead guitarist, Lord Ahriman, whose guitar work is the very blood that flows through the album, often adrenalized and near-boiling. It’s what gives Where Shadows Forever Reign its vitality. The album’s production, too, introduces it all in an interesting fashion. On the first several tracks, the riffs take backseat to Heljarmadr’s vocals and Dominator’s expertly defined blast beats. While a refreshing choice, it’s unfortunate, because the riffs supporting them are killer, especially on “As One We Shall Conquer”. Luckily, though, they’re formally introduced on “Temple of Ahriman” among a much slower and ritualistic pace, as if Ahriman’s been watching from afar and is only now just making himself known. This sort of reverent service is maintained through “Eternal Eclipse” and “To Carve Another Wound”, as the band restrains themselves in order for Ahriman and Heljarmadr to pontificate among violent threats and forthcoming riffs. Such threats are then made good upon in “Nail Them To the Cross” and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” by reintroducing explosive blast beats and surfacing Ahriman’s riffs, whether pleasantly discordant or catchy as all hell. The title track is especially fantastic, as it finds Ahriman and Heljarmadr at their most cohesive, winding melodies around each other and matching each other in both despondency and unremitting confidence.
It’s disappointing, though, that there aren’t many moments as memorable as its finale. Sure, the tracks are serviceable in their own right, but they don’t do much for listeners looking for truly exciting moments like “Where Shadows Forever Reign” that will keep them returning to the album. The aforementioned praise bestowed upon the band’s authenticity was not superfluous; Dark Funeral deserve the accolades for remaining true to their vision held so steadfastly for nearly 25 years. It simply seems that the band is still approaching a more fully realized record with more to say for itself than just a few highlights.
Essential Tracks: “As One We Shall Conquer”, “Temple of Ahriman”, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign”