This year Fjoergyn celebrates their twentieth anniversary and this also coincides with the release of their sixth album Judasmesse. The German black metal group has approached the genre through a symphonic and experimental lens throughout their career, and this latest album is no exception. What initially comes across like a cross between Emperor and some of Arcturus’ back catalog quickly diverges into a wide range of styles where everything from gothic metal, doom, and even some electronic/industrial elements are woven into the harsher black metal foundation. It does take a little while to get going, but once it does Judasmesse provides some stunning twists and turns that are worth returning to.
It's not immediately clear what you’re in for, as opener “Sturz” greets you with a burst of almost power electronic or industrial feedback before launching into a fast and furious volley of symphonic black metal. The sound is immediately huge and the riff structures give off some Emperor influence, but the track doesn’t stay in the same place for too long and moves over to a more methodical cadence around the halfway point. Both “Sturz” and “Kain” stay rooted in black metal, with the latter exploring a fuller sound at a slower pace that establishes an ominous atmosphere. Admittedly while these tracks have some twists and turns, it isn’t until “Komm, Abel, lass uns aufs Feld gehen!” that the experimental elements really start to come into play and it becomes clear that Judasmesse is striving to be far more than your standard symphonic or even traditional black metal album. Here the abrasive layers are peeled away and a combination of brooding synth melodies and saxophone give off more of a haunting sci-fi tone. But it’s the Promethus suite of songs that are easily some of the best of what Fjoergyn has to offer on this effort, as the material covers a considerable amount of ground across these three tracks. The first one starts off with a more orchestral approach that leads into some stunning, gigantic sounding black metal riffs, with a later guitar solo bringing in more of a progressive rock feel. The other two have their fair share of black metal riffing also, but there are moves into more gothic/doom sounding melodies, moodier electronics, and even some almost AOR sounding keyboards and guitar. At times the slower sections give off the same depressive yet entrancing tone as mid-period Shining, but with a flair of their own. In lesser hands the kitchen sink approach to songwriting could feel messy, but on Judasmesse the transitions are fluid and the progressive and electronic elements complement the more abrasive metal elements. Admittedly at just under an hour the last two songs are just a bit too long and Fjoergyn does seem to be stretching themselves a little too far, but the sweeping atmospherics and exciting stylistic shifts make up for it and have kept me returning,
There’s a lot happening on the vocal side of Judasmesse, and the shift from screaming to singing and everything in between contributes to the avant-garde flair the album has. “Sturz” has some very hash, distorted screams that open things, with the vocals transitioning over to a much raspier scream that contributes to the Emperor vibes. But even on this song there are already some choral elements and spoken word that shakes things up, and the performance only gets more diverse from there. During the Prometheus suite singing that has more of a gothic or folk tinge takes the focus, and it’s one of the reason that this section of Judasmesse sticks with me. Even though there are so many different abrasive and clean pitches, like the instrumentation nothing feels out of place and all the ranges suit the song they appear on which is an impressive achievement.
Fjoergyn has always been a little outside of the box when it comes to symphonic black metal, but here they’ve taken their grandeur and layered approach and branched out even further. With flourishes of progressive rock, cinematic synth work, and plenty of other surprises, there’s a lot to take in on their sixth full length. It’s not always perfect, as the first two songs don’t grab me quite as much as the rest of the material and the later ones drag a bit, but this is still a strong effort that has enough substance to keep listeners interested for some time to come. Judasmesse is available from Trollzorn Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg