Early second wave black metal often sounded terrible by normal standards, as far as production went. To this very day, a myriad of demos from 199X disgust audiophiles from other genres. The reason was of course lack of money and access to proper studios, but it also meant that each and every one of these recordings still today has a characteristic personality. Which 4-track portastudio was used, whether the guitars were lined into said portastudio or actually recorded through mics in some basement… The factors were endless. Add to this the tendency of certain bands who did have access to studios, beginning with Darkthrone on Transilvanian Hunger, to deliberately f–k their sound to achieve aesthetic aims, and some of the insanity and/or awesomeness which is early second wave black metal production can be better understood.
These days, things are different. There are tons of studios, a myriad of standards and hordes of home recording teenagers with the skills to produce balanced albums. While the intentional FUBAR sound is still very common, often in imitation of blackened forebears, the unintentional crapfest is now a rarer species. Many a black metal album has as balanced a production as any Britney Spears record. To this latter category belongs Katharos, a Swedish black/death metal act heavy on the black part. Now, this is not really a bad thing. The epic style pursued on their debut album Exuvian Heraldry, to be released by Sliptrick Records on 1 mars 2017, actually benefits a great deal from being “properly” recorded. While our heart will always be with the sound of the first Dimmu Borgir album For Al Tid and a plethora of polish demo tapes, certainly there must also be room in the intolerant jail cell of the black metal scene for groups that know someone who can work a mixer table?
So, this is “epic” black metal. Shifting pace, massive synthesizers meshing unusually well with the heavily distorted strings and suitably rabid vocals. No-one is re-inventing the wheel here, but perhaps there is really little reason to do so.
The Britney Spears comparison above, apart from being dated as living hell, may not go very far towards understanding the music of Katharos. Their Swedish origin is, though, if only to a certain degree. The blast beats, minor chord infested parts that pepper the album throughout bring Dark Funeral and late Setherial to mind at times, and one could probably list a bunch of Swedish albums from the late 90s to hammer the point home. The most important influence the band have taken from their native land of smorgasbords and ombudsmen is certainly Dissection, though, and there are plenty of riffs and sections that bring this the original Swedish death/black act to mind. Never in a rip-off sense, mind you, but if these guys haven’t listened a hell of a lot to Dissection, they’ve listened to other bands who have.
To counterbalance, there is a heavy Norwegian component as well. The entire catalog of Emperor shines through on various points of this album – from the heavy synthesizer use to the song structure. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the 9-minute epic “Svaneti”. Once again, it never turns into rip-off (there are simply too many influences, and perhaps also a trace of originality every now and then), but there is certainly a commonality of sound. Other bands to mention would be Old Man’s Child. Leaving Norway, we could offer the real afficionados a comparison to Ukrainian Svarga.
Listing influences will only go so far, though, and in the end you’ll have to listen to the album yourself and decide what to make of it. Just in case Archaic Triad’s point of view was not made clear: Exuvian Heraldry is a solid album, which deserves a solid thumbs up.