Released: 2003, Century Media
Reviewer: Night of the Realm
Naglfar aren’t exactly the most prolific band in the metal kingdom. Releasing their first full-length in 1995, these Norwegian purveyors of black thrash-death are only on their third full-length with the release of SHEOL (Translated from the Hebrew as “Hell”).
I’ve never actually listened to any of Naglfar’s works prior to SHEOL, so I don’t have any baseline to which I can compare SHEOL. For that reason, I held off reviewing this album for a month, hoping that something would click between Naglfar and I.
Well, after many listens, I still can’t get into SHEOL. They claim to play a blend of black thrash-death, but the end result is more akin to the blasting/grinding of a Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir, minus the endless sea of keys. Yeah, this really is not my thing. Songs like “I Am Vengeance,” “Wrath of the Fallen,” and “Force of Pandemonium” really pass by without leaving much of an impression. “The Infernal Ceremony” doesn’t count either, as it is a mellow piano outro, very out of place with the tone on the rest of the album.
SHEOL does have some really great moments, though. “Black God Aftermath” is a really powerful track. I’m getting a strong Dissection feel from this one. The dual guitars really stand out with the combination of a melodic lead going along with a super thick backing riff. The fury slows down in tempo only, sacrificing no intensity while Jens belts out a simple chorus, “BLACK! GOD! AFTERMATH!” Yeah, by the 3rd listen or so, I’m expecting this part, and my fist’s in the air as I scream along. “Abyssmal Descent” has quite a bit of variation, starting out with a slow death metal groove until a few seconds of silence separate the last half of this seven-minute track. Here, the band picks up some speed (still only slightly faster than mid-paced), with a melodic riff much like the latest Old Man’s Child album, IN DEFIANCE OF EXISTANCE. “Devoured by Naglfar” is the most death-metal track on the album. Why the hell can’t they cut back on the blastbeats? Too many great passages are bogged down and separated by these breaks. Mattias Grahn proves from time to time on this album that he can really lay down an intense double-bass line with plenty of killer rolls. I wish he would express this talent more frequently. “Of Gorgons Spawned Through Witchcraft” is a killer track. The melodic lead here is still quite raw and cuts right to the bone; background keys help create a more haunting atmosphere. This track, too, reminds me very much of OMC’s latest work. “Unleash Hell” does precisely what the title indicates. Well, it unleashes SOMETHING. Jesus FUCKING piss on a stick! Where the hell did this ripping melodic guitar duel come from? Holy shit does this track rule. Too bad it’s the shortest one on the album at just 3:31. The short little solo coming in after only 55 seconds is straight from the old school of classic metal, and totally unexpected. Were that the rest of the album was in this style; I would be humping the fuck out of it. Oh yeah, the lead riff on here is absolutely scathing. My head’s banging now. The last track, “Force of Pandemonium” doesn’t do much for me overall, but it does have a couple nice solos, and a strong melodic lead breakdown starting around the 3 minute mark.
Naglfar does a good job bringing SHEOL out, and damn well they do, since they’ve only had 5 years since the last full-length to do so. At least they’re not as lazy as Manowar. The production on this album is clear; it is only through inane blast-grind passages that the guitars are lost. The artwork, too, by Niklas Sundin is awesome, in a disturbing kinda way. It’s one of those covers that just has a creepy feel to it. I wish I had a full album in front of me, instead of a promo slipcase so I could see what the rest of the layout looks like. In the end, I dug this quite a bit more than I expected to. We’ve got 3 absolutely killer tracks with “Black God Aftermath,” “Of Gorgons Spawned Through Witchcraft,” and “Unleash Hell,” and some redeeming moments in a couple others. I may just have to go back and investigate Naglfar’s back catalog.