Deathspell Omega got off to a rocky start with 2000’s Infernal Battles. Dubbed by the issuing label Northern Heritage as the group’s debut full-length, this is really an extended-play/compilation of sorts that is comprised of four tracks recorded for the release and an additional four tracks straight and unaltered off of the group’s Disciples of the Ultimate Void demo from the prior year. As such, the results are remarkably uneven – although for wildly different reasons.
This notoriously reclusive1 black metal group is famous for its progressive stylings that incorporate Slavonic chants, augmented liturgical scales, and deeply cerebral bi- and trilingual lyrics; Infernal Battles may surprise fans of later albums such as Paracletus with regards to the untechnical compositions therein. The first four tracks utilize progressions and riffing that are heavily informed by early thrash metal. Opening track “The Victory of Impunity” utilizes an introductory melodic guitar tone as per Drudkh’s (very much black metal) Forgotten Legends and Autumn Aurora before going into a syncopated riff in vein of Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales debut. “Sacrilegious2 Terror” features a prominent descending resolving riff that is common on Bathory’s early tracks – especially “Necromansy.” While not a bad change-up if heard in context to Deathspell Omega’s other works, the songs are fairly mediocre black metal that stand out little from the glut of similar raw, riff-filled releases that typified the lo-fi hypergenre3 in the early noughties.
Compare this to the album’s latter half, which is an entirely different animal. The Bathory riffs are still there – just check out “The Ancient Presence Revealed” – but otherwise, the demo side is (surprise, surprise!) steeped in Darkthrone/Gorgoroth-worship. This is low fidelity on the scale of Krieg’s The Church extended-play and Nachtmystium’s Reign of the Malicious, where the vocals sound as if they were recorded in a different room with cardboard boxes as sound catchers and the only treble to be heard is high-register tremolo picking. It’s not quite as bad as Ildjarn’s polarizing Strength and Anger et al., but it is certainly raw and not likely to impress those who are already familiar with the genre’s love affair with extreme underproduction.5 Perhaps ironically, the second half of Infernal Battles contains songwriting that is more versatile and engaging than the first, but it’s so buried in the production that the listener finishes each track feeling underwhelmed.
Infernal Battles is a black6 mark on Deathspell Omega’s otherwise quite stellar discography. It is by no means a necessary listen, as it retains little historical value in an era with so many similar and equally undistinguished releases; not to mention it adds little to one’s understanding of the band’s later achievements in technical songcraft since it demonstrates none of the tropes that would make the band a black metal powerhouse come their theological trilogy.
1. The Victory of Impunity – (5:02) – ★★★☆☆
2. Drink the Devil’s Blood – (4:22) – ★★★★☆
3. Extinction of the Weak – (5:26) – ★★☆☆☆
4. Sacrilegious Terror – (4:56) – ★★★☆☆
5. Raping Human Dignity – (4:20) – ★★☆☆☆
6. The Ancient Presence Revealed – (5:39) – ★★☆☆☆
7. Knowledge of the Ultimate Void – (4:42) – ★★☆☆☆
8. Death’s Reign (Human Futility) – (4:20) – ★☆☆☆☆
1Their last interview was conducted via e-mail in 2004, and the members’ identities are not fully confirmed by either the band or their label(s).
2I hate how this word is spelled. Would it have killed you to make it “sacreligious,” English? Drives me crazy.
3I’m dead-set on making this a recognized term in music criticism. A hypergenre is a recognizable subgenre of a subgenre, like Elephant Six baroque indie rock4 and potato-quality black metal production.
4That probably sounds like the most pretentious thing ever, but it’s really good!
5I would recommend Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger and Thorns’ Grymyrk to those curious. Their appeal is entirely down to the individual listener, but they are great for understanding the genre’s beginning in production and riffing.
6No pun intended.