According to Wikipedia, deserts can be classified as either hot or cold deserts. A typical image when thinking of a desert is one that is rife with sand and sweltering heat, which would obviously be classified as a “hot” desert. A “cold” desert, in particular an ice cap desert, is one that perpetually hosts freezing temperatures and is practically devoid of life because of this. We are talking about cold deserts today to get into the proper mindset to discuss the near legendary “Desert Northern Hell” from Norway’s TSJUDER. “Desert Northern Hell” was originally released in 2004, which was a tumultuous period for Black Metal. Think back to the beginning of the new millennium: many of the legendary Norwegian Black Metal bands of the second wave were progressing in different directions. MAYHEM released their militant opus “Grand Declaration Of War” in 2000; IMMORTAL continued adding epic elements to their music with “Sons Of Northern Darkness” in 2002; SATYRICON started down a path of adding more groove and Rock into the mix with “Volcano” in 2002; and DARKTHRONE released the passable yet musically stagnant “Hate Them” in 2003. In short, fans of Norwegian Black Metal were left wanting a no frills, head banging, straight up Black Metal attack.
Enter TSJUDER, comprised of Nag on vocals and bass, Draugluin on guitars and AntiChristian on drums. TSJUDER started life with two relatively unremarkable releases. Now these releases were decent and had TSJUDER’s trademark “no compromise” attitude, but something was missing, be it a certain cold and menacing atmosphere or just sheer determination to create a blasting and unrelenting homage to all of the things that made the second wave of Black Metal so great. Whatever the reasons were behind TSJUDER putting everything together on this album are irrelevant because what truly matters is that they did put everything together here. Everything that is embodied in second wave Norwegian Black Metal is here and crafted with enough conviction, determination and technical proficiency to stand out as one of the true classic second wave albums of the new millennium.
Starting the album off with breakneck speed, “Malignant Coronation” sets the tone for the rest of the album: blistering guitar riffs, blasting drums, thick, rampant bass lines (yes, it’s actually audible) and an overall iciness to the overall presentation. Most of this album is fast as hell trem picking with blasting drum. The chaotic trem lines, although vicious and fast as hell, flesh themselves out as melodious swirling patterns. There are moments when the guitars slow down into minor key picking and the drums slow down to a steady rock beat. These slower minor key sections help to add a haunting touch to the already cold and icy atmosphere, calling to mind “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” era MAYHEM. Sporadic moments of thrashing and groove-laden riffing are strewn about to give anyone’s neck a wrecking. “Ghoul” showcases a grooving riff during the chorus that builds into trem-laden intensity while “Mouth Of Madness” switches between minor keys and a chugging, palm muted Thrash fest. Even while the band is grooving the music is still undeniably icy and cold. Draugluin plays some pretty killer leads as well, shredding the fret board but never going into pretentious wankery. The vocals are relatively standard for Black Metal, more in line with the angry, pissed off approach than the shrieking style. I find they’re a pretty good mix of the “frog in throat” Abbath style and the angry-man style of MARDUK. Everything culminates on “Morbid Lust”, an eleven minute opus that contains everything that makes this album great. The simple fact that the entire eleven minute runtime is engaging is a testament to the growth that TSJUDER made in their songwriting abilities. The production is modern and relatively clean while still retaining a very second wave feel to it. “Desert Northern Hell” is fast paced Black Metal with no compromises: plain and simple.
TSJUDER’s “Desert Northern Hell” is exactly the giant proverbial swift-kick-in-the-ass that the Norwegian Black Metal scene needed in 2004. This is a blasting album that delivers everything a fan of second wave Black Metal could ever want: blistering guitar lines; break neck drumming; angry raspy vocals; and icy and haunting atmosphere. To add some more fuel to the fire, TSJUDER went and covered BATHORY’s classic “Sacrifice” and utterly nailed the gritty and thrashy feel of the original. “Desert Northern Hell” should be considered among the classics of Norwegian Black Metal. If you like Black Metal and don’t own this yet, go buy it now… you won’t be disappointed.
The 2013 reissue by Season of Mist even adds four live tracks as a bonus. The live tracks aren’t the best quality, but it does show how volatile of a live act TSJUDER is. These tracks aren’t worth repurchasing the album if you already own it, but, once again, if you don’t already own this, you need to buy it. The extra live tracks are just a little icing on the permafrost.
(Online May 3, 2013)