1349, Demonoir (2010, Indie Recordings)
Credit where credit is due: this is a pretty badass skull. Deep watercolors and dark shadows evoke a genuinely hellish vision, here. The jagged teeth of the gaping, inarticulate maw are especially disturbing: not screaming or grimacing this skull, but thoughtless, agape and hungry. The brilliant but limited palette perfectly captures the monochromatic starkness that is the ideal in black metal, but to greater effect than all but the best of the black and white pretenders. This is some seriously evil shit.
I’ve always enjoyed 1349’s semi-sophisticated take on black metal. Of course, Frost is one of, if not the best drummer in black metal, but unlike the recent stripped-down stupidity of his main band, 1349 brings the speed and angular weirdness that Satyricon so artfully deployed on their classic mid 90s releases, the godlike Nemesis Divina in particular. 1349 are still too blazingly fast, all the time, for my tastes, but there’s no other band working at these tempos that can even begin to hold my interest. The slower sections work best for me, and songs like “Pandemonium War Bells” that really mix up the speeds are the highlights of the album. The clean production goes a long way toward keeping 1349 listenable: even through the blasting, the riffing is articulate and audible. The vocals are pretty standard issue, but if you’re listening to black metal for the vocals, well, you have some weird priorities.
— Friar Johnsen