Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bloody Roots: Setherial's Swedish Fury

NORD (1996)

Setherial's Nord is important to me for a multitude of reasons. Primarily, Nord represents one of the first black metal albums that I discovered on my own. Without any outside influence, whether by friend or by 'zine, tape trading (which still occurred in the mid to late 90's) or band association. I bought the album because at the time it was their only record, and someone just happened to have a box of Napalm Records releases for sale at a show, and at the time I was only vaguely aware of Napalm Records due to their association with the kvlt Moribund Records. My purchase was simply based on the logo and the album art.

Having no real idea what to expect I was excited to get the album home to spin. Hell, I didn't even know that they were Swedish or where their overall sound was rooted, I simply knew the whole package looked grim as hell. As far as the Swedish scene at the time, all I had heard was the primordial savagery of Jon Nödtveidt's the Black and of course the first two Dissection albums (which Nödtveidt steered more into death metal territory), and the relentless assault of less subtle bands like Marduk and Dark Funeral. What I got with Setherial, however, was something else entirely.

Rarely are album covers so blatantly accurate, but here's an exception: icy cold, grim, and a certain veil of mystery lurk within Nord. It is a rager of an album to be sure, but there are countless subtleties within it. Melody, dissonance, weird time changes, and unrelenting atmosphere supplied by tasteful keyboards. On top of all that, it is heavy as hell, a brutal descent through fantastical frost-bitten wastelands.

The vocals of Kraath are an enraged shriek. His cadence is direct and decipherable and almost instrumental and his lyrics a lament of lost Scandinavian traditions. Not content to simply spit the blasphemy of countrymen Marduk or Dark Funeral, there is a clear poetical quality not shared by many in the scene at the time. His delivery is definitely a high point.

At the forefront next to the vocals would be the dual guitar delivery of Devothan and Lord Mysteriis. Basically a swirling chaos that churns out equal parts aggression and melody, straight forward and also complex. There is a fair amount of Blood Fire Death/Hammerheart era Bathory influence to be heard, while at the same time hinting at the triumphant onslaught that would be found on albums by Allegiance. This work alone is a high point of the genre at the time, in my opinion, and differentiates Setherial from their contemporaries alone.

The admitted downside to the album is unfortunately the bass work of Thorn. As superior as the rest of the instrumentation is on this album, Thorn's basslines are incredibly difficult to decipher in this mix, almost as if they're simply an afterthought. On the upside of this disappointment in the rhythm section are session drums by Anders Löfgren, here going by Zathanel. His battery is pummeling and concise, untriggered and distinct. He switches from ice cold blasts to galloping beats on a dime, ravaging the ears and propelling the rest of the group to an exceptional level that I think was kind of unmatched in this album's day.

To say that I was thrilled upon listening to Nord the first time is an understatement. I worshipped Setherial as supreme black metal art as far as their album Hell Eternal, after which they slipped into the mediocre and insubstantial territory of second rate black metal. But this debut is a startlingly intense statement of intent by a band still young and fresh with creativity to the nines. It weaves and rips and immerses with it's atmosphere and musicianship, and never fails to captivate. Almost 20 years later, I believe this album is just as compelling as the day it dropped.

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