Released: 2016, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Seven years and seemingly innumerable lineup changes later, Swedish miscreants Dark Funeral have issued their sixth studio album. Since the last one, 2009's Angelus Exuro pro Eternus, they've been through three vocalists – longtime frontman Emperor Magus Caligula left, came back after his replacement, Nachtgarm, departed and then left again to be replaced by Heljarmadr – are on their fourth bassist, and had drummer Dominator step away for a bit and return.
Only founding guitarist Lord Ahriman and his veteran counterpart Chaq Mal stuck it out for the duration. But the turmoil subsided long enough for the band to record Where Shadows Forever Reign – though with Ahriman also handling the bass with the departure of Natt after two years. And after all of said turmoil, it ended up sounding pretty much like textbook Dark Funeral.
Over their quarter century in the black metal trenches, Dark Funeral have been models of sonic consistency - or merely trodding the same ground, depending on your point of view – regardless of who made up the roster. And I guess as long as Ahriman remains at the wheel, that's how it's going to be.
So Shadows has a familiar ring: shrill, supersonic guitars, caterwauling vocals, an epic/dramatic hue and no shortage of blasphemy. The change at frontman, which stood to have the greatest impact on Dark Funeral's sound, feels relatively seamless here, indeed barely noticeable. Heljarmadr's shriek-and-growl delivery essentially picks up where Caligula's left off, and the rest of the band follows suit.
Shadows gets off to a strong enough start with back-to-back-to-back barnburners “Unchain My Soul,” “As One We Shall Conquer” and the fiendishly hooky “Beast Above Man” that show the band didn't lose any fire or zeal in the interim. “For we shall own the night, And destroy the remains of their one 'god,' And cast down Hell ... his soul” Heljarmadr howls on “Conquer.” The more things change, the more they stay same indeed.
“As I Ascend” slows things dramatically and is effectively grim epic, book-ended by the haunting toll of a distant bell, like something out of an old Hammer Studios horror movie. “Temple of Ahriman” takes much the same slow-grind approach, but sounds sluggish and clumsy by comparison, as if the band went to the well one too many times.
It's back to blasting with the furious “The Eternal Eclipse” where Dominator's drumming becomes a blur before he shows off some groove on “To Carve Another Wound” with a nifty shuffling beat matched by perhaps the hookiest chorus Dark Funeral's ever offered. The album limps to the finish, however, with “Nail Them To The Cross” - one of the band's more resounding duds that just never gets it together – and the bland title track where Heljarmadr's recitation-like delivery makes it sound like he's taking the lyrics for a test spin and lacks any conviction.
So instead of a triumphant return, Where Shadows Forever Reign merely rates as a return to a well-established form for Dark Funeral. And while that may be good enough for some, if you were hoping your patience would be rewarded by something more, hate to bust your bubble.