Krieg’s fractured experiments in raw, bestial black metal hit their early realization on Sono Lo Scherno, which was originally recorded in 1998 but not released for seven years. As one of the longest-running acts in the USBM1 scene, Krieg actually predates the main guard of Weakling, Leviathan, Xasthur et al. by several years, and therefore have little in common with the progressive, long-form compositions with which those bands are credited for popularizing in the underground. Led by the only consistent member Neill Jameson (a.k.a. Imperial), Krieg frequently utilizes spoken word, chamber music, and militaristic riffs in the creation of a unique – if occasionally haphazard – style of heavy metal.
In contrast to the high-tremolo/high-register musicianship of recognizable second-wave acts Darkthrone, Immortal, and Burzum; Krieg favors a distinct bass-heavy form of guitar playing that has more in common with Gorgoroth’s Destroyer and Behemoth’s mid-career blackened death metal. Since most second-wave artists were in a creative slump or incarcerated, the late nineties are a relatively lackluster point in the genre’s history. Some bands took the safe route of remaking the same albums as before, others reinvented themselves outside of black metal,2 and a few more (such as the aforementioned USBM bands) splintered off into a wildly different creative route with variable results. Krieg’s unique musicianship is easily understood as a confluence between the dirty sounds coming out of Eastern Europe3 and the exigency to evolve that characterizes early millennial bands.4
While Krieg aren’t necessarily the most successful band in the USBM “mainstream” – insofar as such a thing exists – they demonstrate impressively versatile songcraft that makes it easy to see why the band has such a dedicated listener base. They were not always successful: The Church extended-play represents some of the worst of Ildjarn-level production fidelity. However, their willingness to adapt and persistent recording schedule made them a band relevant in the scene even two decades after their formation – something that Varg Vikernes certainly cannot claim.
Sono Lo Scherno is an excellent, early example of Krieg’s utility. The ersatz song structure is a far cry from the minimalist riffs practiced on Transilvanian Hunger, Hvis lyset tar oss, and Dark Medieval Times; much less the melodic technicality of Rotting Christ and Dissection. Jameson frequently incorporates spoken word, bastardized liturgical chants, and drop-tuned guitars. Multi-tracked vocals feature screams, shrieks, and growls of various intensities juxtaposed against each other as if a demonic choir is singing from the hellacious landscape depicted in the cover art. Jameson is quite fond of a canorous wail that predates the one used by John Gossard of Weakling by a year – a style that would inspire its own host of followers in the depressive/suicidal subculture of black metal.
Heavy metal is no stranger to influences from classical music; Sono Lo Scherno is manifestly baroque – from the harpsichord of “Knights of the Holocaust” to the grim violin of “Hallucinations in the Withered Eden.” The rise-and-fall of “Ruin Under The Burning Skies” is diabolically orgasmic; it takes no stretch of the imagination to picture a chorus of fallen angels dancing in ecstasy to intimate classical music before launching into a violent orgy upon each crashing guitar lead. Each of the three chamber interludes serves as a breather episode before the fiery black metal resumes.
Several tracks betray Krieg’s immaturity at the time of writing. Sono Lo Scherno has a significant side-two-slump after the “Plague Waltz” interlude. Krieg’s attempt to write concise songs in a punk-ish riffing style with fewer unorthodox elements results in less rewarding experiments when compared to the big meandering tracks of the first side. With the exception of ambient closer “Hypnotic Decay,” they indicate the same problem as Deathspell Omega’s Infernal Battles – namely, that the sides of the release sound as if they are from entirely different sessions smashed together for the sake of marketing. There is a Tartaros-esque symphonic break on “Blackash Snowfall,” but otherwise it is the most underdeveloped track on the album.
As to be expected with black metal – especially early band releases – the production is slipshod. The percussion is mixed way too loudly, often overcrowding the guitars. This is especially apparent on “Maelstrom,” which is saved from being totally overwhelming by a remarkable acoustic break and Jameson’s incredible scream in the latter half of the song. The percussion also the weakest part of the album in performance quality.
Despite its amateurishness, Sono Lo Scherno is an appealing release. Krieg’s engagements with chamber music and multi-tracked screams elicit a genuinely malevolent atmosphere. Sono Lo Scherno is brutal, but without the kvlt tendencies that make black metal an unintentional parody of itself all too often. It’s haphazard, but with several fairly well-executed and inspiring experiments at a time when the genre was finding its footing after a creative peak.
1. Seven Plagues, Seven Houses – (0:52) – ★★★☆☆
2. Knights of the Holocaust – (4:49) – ★★★☆☆
3. Fallen Ones – (2:23) – ★★★★☆
4. Slit Their Throats to the Spine – (4:39) – ★★★★★
5. Hallucinations in the Withered Eden – (3:09) – ★★★★☆
6. Ruin Under the Burning Skies – (6:28) – ★★★★★
7. Maelstrom – (3:15) – ★★★☆☆
8. Plague Waltz – (1:27) – ★★★☆☆
9. Power of Darkness [Nunslaughter cover] – (2:10) – ★★★☆☆
10. Shadows of the Fallen Kingdom – (2:38) – ★★★☆☆
11. Blackash Snowfall – (2:52) – ★★☆☆☆
12. Hypnotic Decay – (2:04) – ★★★☆☆
1“United States Black Metal.”
2… kinda like shoegaze music leading into britpop.
3E.g. Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic) by Behemoth.
4… something that thrash metal hasn’t quite gotten as the vast majority of releases since the turn of the millennium are firmly rooted in tried-and-true eighties styles.