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1349 - "Revelations Of The Black Flame" (CD)

1349 - "Revelations Of The Black Flame" CD cover image

"Revelations Of The Black Flame" track listing:

1. Invocation (6:13)
2. Serpentine Sibilance (4:35)
3. Horns (3:04)
4. Maggot Fetus Teeth Like Thorns (3:46)
5. Misanthropy (3:33)
6. Uncreation (6:59)
7. Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (6:13)
8. Solitude (3:38)
9. At The Gate... (6:52)

Reviewed by on June 20, 2009

"when everything clicks, “Revelations Of The Black Flame” becomes an engaging listening experience; a soundtrack to a smoldering day in the damp furnace properly known as Hell."

1349, a Norwegian black metal band, has excelled at delivering consistently solid albums since their 2003 debut “Liberation.” Time and time again, 1349 has brought a heightened sense of aggression, with little room in their sound to breathe or expose a melodic side. After three back-to-back-to-back albums between 2003 and 2005, the band took their time with their next one, as drummer Frost went back to Satyricon and bassist Seidemann was busy with his projects, including Pantheon I.

1349 returns with “Revelations Of The Black Flame,” an album that will no doubt cause dissension and criticism from the band’s fan base. While their last album, “Hellfire,” hinted at a more doom-ish sound, with longer song lengths and ambient sections, the band takes the full plunge and completely changes their sound on “Revelations.” While black metal is still at the core of the album, it usually takes a backseat to a more slow and calculating approach. In its place lies long stretches with no vocals, simple guitar riffs, straightforward drum work, and programming/keyboards creating an atmosphere drenched in morbidity and darkness.

1349 has always excelled at the chaotic side of black metal, so for them to show restraint proves to be quite the difficult task. The band doesn’t always pull it off, but when everything clicks, “Revelations Of The Black Flame” becomes an engaging listening experience; a soundtrack to a smoldering day in the damp furnace properly known as Hell. Disappointingly, these moments are few and far in-between, as 1349 seems content to sticking to droning ambiance and extended instrumentals.

Screams of terror and horror are the first unholy sounds heard from opener “Invocation,” a lumbering beginning that can be compared to a slow escalator ride down the depths of the underworld. The lyrics are vivid and built on haunting imagery, a strong trait that continues throughout the rest of the album. The production is hollow and lifeless, possibly done on purpose, since the rest of the album has a thicker, if bland, sound to it.

There are a few moments of sheer madness on “Revelations Of The Black Flame,” as if 1349 suddenly remembered that they are a black metal band. “Serpentine Sibilance” is a slow burner that turns into a full-on war zone, which continues on “Maggot Fetus Teeth Like Thorns,” one of the best song titles of the year. These songs are the strongest tunes of the bunch, with sharp riffing and a pummeling rhythm section.

A heavy emphasis on instrumentals is a new approach that 1349 tries out. There are three of them on the album, mostly comprised of random noises and ambiance. The only one that holds any emotional leeway is the piano-led “Misanthropy,” which will send chills up your spine with every note hit, the pain and loss emerging with every passing second. Looking at the album as a whole, these interludes have a proper place in building a stark atmosphere, but ultimately end up as filler used to pad out the running length.

A few of the songs push over the six-minute mark, and this is where the band’s weaknesses are exposed. While “Hellfire” had a few repetitive areas here and there, “Revelations Of The Black Flame” turns into a sheer bore-fest at times. The Pink Floyd cover “Set The Control For The Heart Of The Sun” and closer “At The Gates” weight the album down with dull soundscapes and drawn-out melodies. The latter, in particular, has three minutes at the end where it just keeps going and going with no clear direction or purpose. The seven-minute “Uncreation” is the only epic track to progress in any type of interesting fashion, turning on its head near the conclusion with wild soloing from Archaon, the only chance he gets on the entire album.

The most blasphemous mistake though was toning down Frost. His drumming on previous albums was insane, with blast beats the norm and a speedy, but precise, delivery. Out of all the musicians, Frost seemed to be scaled back the most. With the exception of the few instances where an opportunity to let loose is given, his drum beats lack power. It’s a real shame that Frost was not given free reign to at least add some fills or any sort of unique dynamic to the proceedings.

Compared to their previous outputs, “Revelations Of The Black Flame” can’t be called anything but a disappointment. 1349 experimented with their sound, something that can be dangerous in the black metal circles, and they paid the price. There are some worthwhile songs scattered throughout, especially on the first half, but the band seemed to want to create a listening experience that favored the whole package, instead of crafting individual tunes. The instrumentals seem like they have a purpose, but in the long run, they just bog down an album that is already held back by many factors, including a so-so production and flawed songwriting. The elements are there for a great album on "Revelations Of The Black Flame," but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

Highs: Aggressive moments of black metal, solid instrumental work, poignant lyrics.

Lows: Restrainted drum work, long-winded ambient pieces, lack of clear direction on a few of the longer tracks.

Bottom line: A lot of potential for a solid album, but 1349 stumbles a lot, resulting in a mediocre follow-up to "Hellfire."

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)