Released: 2007, Candlelight Records
Reviewer: J. Campbell
Talk about coming out of nowhere.
Previously oblivious to Pantheon I’s existence, expectations were basically nonexistent for this sophomore offering. Sure, a barrage of black metal was probable, what with vocalist/guitarist Andrè Kvebek’s previous tenure in 1349, but Pantheon I is a completely different beast than his former band. THE WANDERER AND HIS SHADOW is a viscerally organic, forward-thinking slab of Norwegian metal, entirely free of pretentions and arrogance. Conceiving some of the most remarkable progressive black metal in recent memory, this band has emerged from the shadows to light a hellish fire under 2007’s ass.
The words “progressive black metal” may be off-putting to some, but unlike some of their contemporaries (namely, Borknagar), Pantheon I keep their feet firmly rooted in the earth. Coming across like a less rigid, more vitriolic Keep of Kalessin, they combine mountainous, textured riffing with a whip-smart rhythm section. The clear, yet sufficiently fiery production brings forth AUDIBLE bass lines, which is commendable in and of itself. But four-stringer Tor RIsdal Stavenes, another 1349 member, flexes his fingers in ways unneeded by his other outfit, and nearly steals the show with his nimble fretwork. Melding with snare-heavy drumming that shifts from tasteful beatkeeping to barely-hinged, warlike blasting on a fucking dime, the effect is simply wicked.
Kvebek’s venomous roar is the torso to the musical limbs, pulling everything together with his pointedly acerbic howling. Imagine Satyr armed with superior lyrics, twice the lungpower, thrice the venom, and unchartable emotional discharge…and you’re getting close. A powerhouse, assuredly, but this isn’t what pushes THE WANDERER AND HIS SHADOW over the cliff. That honor belongs to Live Julianne Kostøl’s haunting cello performance.
Prudently used, her sorrowful bow brings the aforementioned organic element full circle. In lieu of the keyboard crutch leaned on by so many of their peers, the cello’s presence makes for a brilliant addition to the Pantheon I sound. Standout tracks like “Where Angels Burn” and especially “My Curse” are pushed into the realm of ‘masterpieces’ by the contrasting atmospherics. As I ask myself why anyone hadn’t thought of this sooner, it’s becomes apparent that it was for the better. This is singularly awesome.
All components assembled, THE WANDERER AND HIS SHADOW is a monolithic achievement. The cave-dwelling atavists out there may not embrace this record as they should, but the hell with them anyway. By all indications, there’s not going to be another blackened slab released this year that will impress to the degree that this album does. Technical, unique, ambitious…this is top-shelf material in every aspect.
In recent times, it seems there’s been only one black metal band per year that completely floors me. In 2005, that band was Order of the Ebon Hand. Wolves In The Throne Room owned ’06. This is Pantheon I’s year.