There is a lesson to be learned when looking at the history of BEHERIT, and that is that if enough people hate you then, in time, you will be adored for it. Not only would most people in mainstream society refuse to touch them with a 100 ft. pole during the early 1990s, but they were all but universally despised by their fellow Scandinavian brethren. They essentially brought the old party hard, sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle to a scene that was becoming pretty heavily in love with itself, and made their fair share of enemies in the process. Many who now claim to love their old work likely do more so because of its association with Black Metal antiquity than for an actual appreciation for its aesthetic nature and the uniqueness of its outlook within the genre‘s paradigm.
After having been silent in the studio for 14 years, or 16 if you go by their Black Metal releases, expectations are naturally either unrealistically high or low. But regardless of the hopes in any individual anticipating its release, most were expecting that “Engram” would be a continuation of earlier works. Although expectations are largely unavoidable, they do tend to have a detrimental effect on the listening experience, especially if they don’t make room for the possibility of a very good, yet by the numbers album. That’s essentially how this album can be described to anyone who is really familiar with the style and its history, a standard, full frontal assault on the ears in the manner that you’d get from an early GORGOROTH album. “Antichrist” is one album that particularly comes to mind when considering some of the Thrashing riffs that populate this album, albeit the production of “Engram” is much heavier on the bottom end, a bit less fuzzy, and there are several Ambient keyboard sections spread out upon a few of these songs.
Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Nuclear Holocausto lays out the intention of the album with a singular declaration of hatred for the world, spoken in a plain, dry voice no less. What follows is a rekindled fury of noise driven guitars, at first with the fuzz on full display and a free flowing, synthesized oboe melody to mess with the ears. Once it gets going, this noise driven overture “Axiom Heroine” takes the aggressive minimalist route, punching out a pair of repetitive, crushing riffs over a controlled blast beat. “Destroyer Of Thousand Worlds” and “All In Satan” take a straight line approach, but with an occasional keyboard backdrop, and just blast all the way through relentlessly, keeping it short and to the point. “Suck My Blood” goes into a bit of a Death/Thrash direction, particularly with the guttural vocal inflections, and comes off almost like a Black Metal answer to “Seven Churches”.
The rest of the album definitely takes care to remember that BEHERIT became a unique beast by dabbling in ambient oddities from time to time, and uses a greater degree of effects to accent what is a more Doom oriented take on this art form. “Pagan Moon” and “Demon Advance” both take things a good bit slower and actually elevate the drums to a point of being extremely prominent in the mix. The riffs are a little bit more melodic than the droning SABBATH inspired riffs on “Drawing Down The Moon”, but they utilize the same repetitive effect to bring out the vocals. Much of the vocal work dabbles in clean singing, in the form of low baritone chants that one might here at a dark meditation session. “Pimeyden Henki” gets really heavy on the atmosphere and almost listens like a cross between some off of “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” and “In The Nightside Eclipse”.
The charm of this release is that it doesn’t attempt to rely solely on the atmospheric and Doom aesthetics of “Drawing Down The Moon” or try to exclusively cater to the low fidelity fuzz addicted crowd who endlessly praise “The Oath Of Black Blood”. It shows a much more measured approach to incorporating the band’s old quirks into the blackened template, coming out with something that is probably more accessible to modern fans of the genre, but still firmly in league with the older form of evil that lurked in the shadow of the 90s. The production is somewhat clean compared to older efforts, though far from the over-processed character of many recent extreme bands, and successfully walks a tightrope between been too dry sounding and too loaded with atmospheric effects. The vocals still maintain the louder, narrative character that was on full display on early works, but what is going on around it sounds a bit less distant. It’s an album that seems to revise more than it does expand out into new territory, but it loses nothing in the quality department.
Although this will probably enjoy a wider audience than the band’s earlier material did, the same brands of praise and derision will likely remain. Holocausto has essentially told everyone listening, in spite of his adventures into other forms of music, that he has no intention of attempting to turn BEHERIT into some sort of progressive outfit for new ideas, and why not? I’ve personally been of the opinion that you don’t fuck with what works, and there’s none of that to be found here. There will naturally be those who will can this as being either generic or throw in some fancy subjective analogy to it being generic such as empty or passionless, but those types are basically impossible to please, so the best approach is not to try. It’s not quite “Drawing Down The Moon”, but for this year it’s definitely in the upper echelon.
(Online March 13, 2010)