Swedish and American veterans combine their strengths to form a Symphonic-Black musical symposium.
When listeners reflect on the cold, vicious world of Norwegian Black Metal, they tend to regard the parts that are most commonly associated with the Oslo and Bergen scene in the early 90's; the low budget, lo-fi, blazingly fast barrage of pedal on tremolo riff that combines the articulated with the aggressive to create a perfect storm of brutal, punishing noise with a machine gun for a heartbeat. The part left unspoken is its arguably more than necessary melodic side that adds both depth and beauty to an otherwise harsh and relentless assault on the senses. In that void rests the likes of EMPEROR, IMMORTAL, and AETERNUS, all groups that have passed through the illustrious archways of Grieghallen Studio, the home of Black Metal. EMPEROR's In The Nightside Eclipse in particular has inspired and molded more groups than will ever be known, including the group that we've thrown into the spotlight today.
GARDSGHASTR is a black metal super-group formed in part by Swedish veteran Swartadaupuz of Bekëth Nexëhmü, as well as CHAOS MOON members Alex Poole and Jack and Steven Blackburn. Fronted by vocalist Glömd, the group have taken aim at the current black metal climate by encroaching on a territory polished and refined by the likes of DIMMU BORGIR, ENSLAVED, and SATYRICON. The results are a composition intended for the grandest cathedrals, their debut opus, Slit Throat Requiem.
Launching in with all the pomp and circumstance of a funeral procession, the album ferries the listener away with the damned on a splashy, thumping introduction to the ambient drone of a tune dubbed Promethean Flame. All at once, the band dispels any notion of sanctuary, and the frenzied rhythm of the familiar rushes up to greet the listener. With all the layering and production value of a modern setting, a sense of surrounding, impending doom sets in as the track carries on from one motion to the next. Almost graced with an uncharacteristic flair for bounciness, the tune quickly becomes catchy by the fifth minute, and with that — it's ripped away, only to be replaced with a second track, Of Crimson Eyes, the next chapter in this glimpse of hell.
Overall, the album is a textbook winner in the black metal and symphonic playbook. Though it's dressed to be a switch-hitter in a blackened prom dress — make no mistake — the boys knew precisely how to approach the project without dulling the senses. With every new blast-beat riddled passage, a new siren sings just overneath the chaos. A sweet song dances with melancholy poise as an ugly bass growls at you from below, courtesy of the group's first single, the self-titled track. Sporting a melodic, and soul-shattering ending, this track manages to capture the sheer hopelessness and loneliness of the doomed, crashing and splashing out into nothingness as proverbial blood pours from the open wound.
Lore and theological imagery collide between the lines, weaving a fascinating tale for fans of classic black metal, as well as classic fantasy paperbacks. The lyrical content is both engaging, and easy to become entranced by. Lines such as, "the warriors gather, as the infernal die is cast," delight the listener with tales of heroes who have fallen in their quests for glory and greatness, against demons and gods alike. With the vocal clarity, and measure for measure resounding cries, it's clear that passages from this body of work will haunt the mouths of metalheads for years to come.
While the need for loudness is often clear with this style of metal, Slit Throat Requiem makes copious use of this tool, often sacrificing some of its finer elements beneath a wall-of-sound that threatens to swallow not just the listener, but the album whole. It's not difficult to lose individual patterns in the music under an unrelenting, and busy soundscape that can make it a challenge to fully appreciate each component of the grander symphony that is GARDSGHASTR.
There's no disputing the truth. Slit Throat Requiem is a fantastic return to the glorious era of late nineties Symphonic Black Metal that many listeners have been clutching to for nearly two decades. Fans of that stylistic approach are going to be enamored with what the group has to offer. Likewise, longtime followers of CHAOS MOON and Bekëth Nexëhmü will be pleased to know neither group has lost any of their footing in the transition. On the contrary; the vicious, unfiltered speed and energy that Swartadaupuz brings to the table fits like a glove inside Alex Poole's nebulous and wide-armed sound signature. There's more than enough room for both sounds to coexist, and both can be found hand-in-hand in writhing agony across the eight tracks of this delightful, dastardly, destructive first step from a group that proves that black metal can turn into black magic when die-hard Americans and Swedes collaborate to craft a can't-miss album for listeners who are jaded by the current extreme music scene.
Overall score: 8.5/10
FFO: Emperor, Satyricon, Judas Iscariot, Limbonic Art, Chaos Moon, and Bekëth Nexëhmü
Slit Throat Requiem is out on April 26th, 2019 via Profound Lore Records and it's available for pre-order here via Midheaven with additional pre-orders available in the days to come.