Quickie: Sacramentum – Far Away From The Sun (1996)
Repeated listening suggests that this may be one of the best black metal albums to come out of Sweden in the mid ’90s. It’s definitely better than Dissection’s works at the time (which aren’t bad), more varied than Legion era Marduk (which I also like), and blacker than most of the melodic permutations of extreme metal of the time (Do I really need to list these for you?), and unless I’m missing something , this is probably one of the more complex albums the scene has to offer.
The complexity comes from all the interlocking melodies in the riffs – at any time, there’s generally two, sometimes even three voices in the guitars, all with some degree of counterpoint. Like in “The Red In The Sky Is Ours”, some degree of dissonance is put into the service of melodic composition, allowing the riffs further tonal freedom towards this end.
When it comes to all this counterpoint and meticulous composition, Sacramentum probably isn’t on the level of J.S. Bach (but who is?), but this sort of album would reflect the ever growing levels of craftsmanship inherent to the genre. On one hand, it’s far from the intentional primitivism and violence of a Hellhammer, a Sodom, a Darkthrone, but on the other, it doesn’t pass entirely into the abstracted realms of thought and theory that we see in some of the more atmospheric black metal (like Burzum). Nowadays, most of the scene seems to worship either one or the other, but most of the masterworks are going to show up in the middle, where the visceral and cerebral approaches mix. On “Far Away From The Sun”, Sacramentum backs up the song crafting skill I mentioned with surprisingly ferocious playing (the drumming, for instance, adds much aggression to the album, but varies enough to prevent blurring), and ends up with high caliber black metal in its own distinctive style.