Norwegian black/blackened death metal band Ragnarok has been active for over twenty years. Their decades of honing their craft has now led to Psychopathology, recorded in Sweden's Endarker Studio with the assisance of Devo (Marduk). The grim cover artwork was created by Marcelo Vasco (Slayer, Machine Head, Dimmu Borgir). Though I am not too familiar with previous releases, I am told that this is the first album in Ragnarok's history that doesn't feature founder Jontho on drums. Having taken over the role of frontman, Dauden drummer, Malignant, has taken over kit duties. When asked about the album Jontho had this to say: "Psychopathology" is about to unleash total chaos upon you as it invites you to dive deeper into the dark recesses of the human mind".
If you like that dense, modern take on black metal we've heard from groups like Outre, Ascension, Gorgoroth, and Dimmu Borgir; chances are that Psychopathology will be another enjoyable album for you. "Dominance & Submission" opens the album strong with layered, evil-sounding tremolo lines, blastbeats, and a truly ominous vocal performance from Jontho himself. There's also a touch of that Behemothy, Babylonian sound to a few of the melodies. I'll pause here briefly to note that none of this sounds particularly new or exciting, but even so I am given more than enough sheer energy and viciousness to continue on unabated.
The album continues on much in this vein with a pounding heaviness that is constantly tightening its grasp like a blackened boa constrictor. Lots of killer hooks and a decent enough amount of dynamics to keep compositions interesting. I will say that at 50 minutes, Psychopathology feels a touch long for its content, and with that in mind I encourage you to actually sample a few tracks on the back end before diving into the whole thing. Most of my favorites like "Lies," "Blood," and the excellent "The Eight of the Seven Plagues" reside in the second half.
Ultimately, if you like your black metal to have a stronger production than back in the day and more than a touch of blackened death added to the mix, Ragnarok is a solid choice for you. I applaud how well this group cobbles together all of the best elements of the genre to create something far better than what most of the big names out there are hacking up (coughGorgoroth'slastalbumcough). Some of the purists may take issue with the lack of originality and pretty typical (though well-played) musicianship, but if that stuff isn't a deal-breaker for an otherwise fun experience you should dive right in.