Deathspell Omega - _Kénôse_
(Norma Evangelium Diaboli, 2005)
by: James Montague (10 out of 10)

Finally, a black metal band has modernized without losing the blackness. Finally, acute technical perfection has not ironically blunted the impact. Finally, someone has produced a black metal record that is intensely intellectual in a way that is fascinating, rather than just pretentious.

Let's face it: black metal has been stagnating for some time now. Half the bands still worth listening to are those who've flirted with so many eclectic methods that they cease to be black metal; the other half cling to tried and trusted formulas, their limited release schedules and sloppy playing only serving to emphasize their artistic deprivation. Of course, many of these bands can still entertain, and I am certainly not saying "all black metal since '92 sucks!". But few challenge the listener to the extent Deathspell Omega have with this stunning EP.

_Kénôse_ finds itself in a very select group of releases that are compelling not only musically, but also lyrically and visually. The words and abstract graphic art stretching over the forty pages of the CD booklet are clearly the result of much contemplation and study, presenting a highly credible and eloquent reflection on the nature of man and the divine. Eschewing the hackneyed perpetrators of pulp satanism -- think Crowley, LaVey, etc. -- the band have trawled far and wide for philosophical inspiration, but are not afraid to use orthodox sources like the bible. After all, the true thinker is open to all avenues of thought, and there can be no doubt that the creative minds behind Deathspell Omega are highly evolved -- seek out a rare interview with the band and be prepared for a fascinating encounter, where intellect does not equate to mere verbosity but truly addresses the questions put before it in a considered and incisive fashion.

I am yet to mention the actual music, though the triaxial nature of this work merits the apparent diversion. The audio component of _Kénôse_ is the part I am most familiar with, having listened to the album countless times in MP3 format before recently procuring the complete package. It is truly breathtaking, covering the entire spectrum in terms of melody and rhythm. At times the band plays at lightning speed, with cutting blast beats and expertly delivered melodic leads; these more traditional black metal methods segue into funeral-paced dissonant passages without the slightest hint of disruption to the natural flow. The latter method is one we have seen from many modern black metal bands (Blut Aus Nord, for instance), but never in such a devastating manner. There are also numerous passages of relative serenity, with clean guitars and lightly brushed percussion, which maintain the constant aura of menace without labouring the point by bludgeoning the listener to death. The vocals are also superb: varied, yet always authoritative. Even before examining the lyrics, I could just tell from the delivery that there was a profound message contained within this beastly voice.

There can be no doubt that a phenomenal amount of planning, reflection and preparation went into _Kénôse_. With that in mind, the coherence and enduring sense of spontaneity is quite astonishing. Deathspell Omega have certainly not drowned in pretentious excess; rather, they have produced something which is entirely engaging, yet challenging in a way very few artists ever manage. Truly, this is something special.


(article published 19/9/2005)

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