Svartidauði made a strong impression back in 2012 with their debut Flesh Cathedral, pushing the Icelandic black metal scene to wider notoriety. At that point the band had already been around for ten years, and with only a handful of smaller releases to their name beforehand it was clear that there was a clear focus on quality over quantity. This has proven true for the group’s second album Revelations of the Red Sword, which comes six years after its predecessor and pushes their sound forward in all the right directions. It’s not just a new high point for Svartidauði but is also some of the best black metal you’ll hear in 2018, and this material is likely to stick with listeners for some time.
Revelations of the Red Sword wastes little time in establishing its layers of dark, powerful riffing as opener “Sol Ascending” starts off at its peak level of intensity rather than building slowly into it. While the song lengths may generally be a bit shorter when compared to Flesh Cathedral, this doesn’t mean that Svartidauði has taken a straightforward approach this time around as the instrumentation is constantly shifting and taking on new elements over the course of each song. Even when it seems like the group is settling into more traditional blasts, it doesn’t take long before the guitar leads twist the sound into something else entirely and move away towards their own path. It helps that the guitar has been emphasized considerably when compared to some of the band’s previous recordings, as there is a clarity to the recording that makes it easy to pick out the details without sacrificing any of the energy and grime. Revelations of the Red Sword is at its best when the melodic elements are in full force, sending waves of icy, bone chilling riffs at the listener while the dense Earth rattling instrumentation churns underneath of it. When it comes to atmosphere, Svartidauði sucks you completely in and only the briefest of respites during some of the longer tracks give you a moment to breathe. It’s also worth mentioning the drumming, as Magnús’ drum work shifts just as often as the guitar work which makes the material feel more fluid than is typical for the genre.
The vocals have often been slightly buried in the mix on the band’s previous recording, but on this album there’s a bit more separation than before which allows Sturla’s deep screams and growls to stand above the layers of instrumentation. It’s an approach that works in Svartidauði’s favor as the screaming often reaches a nightmarish, otherworldly level that reaches deep into your psyche and pulls out its darkest elements. Though the pitch remains at the same general level for much of the album, there’s a good deal of space between each verse which allows every single passage to come across with the maximum amount of intensity.
Revelations of the Red Sword is an album that will instantly grab you with its atmosphere and keep you coming back due to the substance of the songwriting. Svartidauði has pushed their material forward in ways that elevate them above many others in the genre, as while the base sound has an air of familiarity the way the songs unfold comes across as genuinely different. This is an album worth fully losing yourself in, preferably with the volume cranked and the lights turned off so you can soak in every detail. Revelations of the Red Sword is available now on Ván Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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