Good ol’ NAGLFAR, those Swedish purveyors of the impure. I swear these guys are victims of their own consistency, as ridiculous as that may sound. When they debuted with “Vittra” back in ’95 they kicked many a metalhead’s ass with their vicious blend of Black Metal, and with the exception of the lackadaisical “Diabolical” they have not released a dud since then. Sure, more Death Metal elements have crept into their sound over the years but their output remain among the finest in its field. I’m calling them “victims” because it all comes off as safe at times. Maybe they should release a train wreck of a failure just to create more buzz around them other than the usual “oh, another solid NAGLFAR release”...
Two years on from the great “Pariah” we now have “Harvest” and even though it is in many ways a typical “NAGLFAR release there are some slight changes this time around: the melodic sensibilities of “Pariah” are kept more in the background this time but when they take center stage they come off as more intricate yet subtle. Atmospheric-wise this is the darkest album of theirs yet, with the whole experience feeling like taking a stroll in Siberia, mid winter, while being lashed across the back with a spiked belt. I did that last year and it wasn’t fun at all… Stupid adventure touring brochures!! But I digress. After the rather uninspired opener, proceedings finally kick into gear with the melodic mid-paced stomp of “Breathe Through Me” (great little solo here), while the following “The Mirrors Of My Soul” sports some criminally catchy opening riffs. At this point a pattern becomes clear – most songs start off with either catchy riffs or melodic strains before the requisite Black Metal blasting kicks in; a tempo change takes place (more often than not supplemented by eerie whispers or fuzz), before a nifty little solo and more blasting finishes things off. This is not unusual for this band, and indeed a million others, but everything from the riffs to the underlying melodies are more fleshed out and closely woven into the overall sonic tapestry this time around. As such this may be the most song-oriented NAGLFAR offering yet, and even though the nuances are more subtle than before it all impresses mightily after a few listens.
Like I mentioned before, this album is pitch black (atmosphere-wise), and the lyrics are also ten times more misanthropic/nihilistic in nature. At times it comes off as almost comical – just read the lyrics to “Way Of The Rope”, a song about a sorry soul hell-bent on committing suicide. Very family friendly fare then… “Odium Generis Humani” is a great song that features heavy blasting offset by some very ethereal melodies and absolutely throat-shredding vocals near the end. “The Darkest Road” kicks off with a blood curdling shriek before settling with a nice mid-paced riff that reminded me strongly of LEVIATHAN’s “Fucking Your Ghost In Chains Of Ice”. But the two highlights of the album are the last two tracks – “Feeding Moloch” is an excellent track that benefits from very emotional piano/keyboard lines and in a way it sounds like a more aggressive DIMMU BORGIR track sans the lame sampling and/or clean vocals. The title track rounds off the album and from the opening seconds it conjures a very epic yet dark vibe (duh!), before some classic DISSECTION-esque riffs take over and effective acoustic strains finishes off proceedings.
Of course the production is sterling, as is the cover art, and the individual members all shine. I must admit to missing Jens Ryden’s vocals but Kristoffer “Wrath” Olivius (BEWITCHED) does an excellent and passionate job here. Throughout it all he sounds believable and not just like someone who’s doing vocals because no one else wanted to. The same goes for the other members – it all comes off as classy and passionate.
I don’t know for how long NAGLFAR can remain relevant in the contemporary extreme scene since their music, for all its qualities, is rather orthodox Black/Death Metal that sadly isn’t as vital now as it used to be when DISSECTION’s “Storm Of The Light’s Bane” and NECROPHOBIC’s “The Nocturnal Silence” surfaced. A little more variety wouldn’t hurt but this is a minor qualm since “Harvest” is a quality effort from a very talented band.
I’m unsure of where this one will finish, if at all, in my year-end list but I cannot deny that this is a great effort and perhaps the best NAGLFAR release since “Vittra”. It’ll take a few listens to realize this though… Invest without hesitation!
(Online May 30, 2007)