Just when you think you know a band, they go and change their spots. Some call this progress. Still others will no doubt nash their teeth, wail and go into over the top histrionics, bellowing at the skies, raging against treachery. Well, Ereb Altor were best known in my house for their pleasant enough brand of latter period Bathory inspired Viking Doom, complete with choral singing and a relatively laid back brand of metal underpinning it all. It has been a wee while since I last caught up with the chaps – in fact, it was with their 2008 debut “By Honour”.

Gastrike really is a different beast to that somewhat dreamy, mellow album. I’ve heard Ereb Altor, a Scandinavian duo featuring gentlemen who also play in the upmost excellent Isole, effectively grow beyond their most pressing and obvious influences on this album. Yes, of course, there are still the Bathory influences – witness the choral “woaah woaaaaaaah”-ing on “Dispellation”, and you’d think you might have stumbled across a sample from “Blood On Ice”, but the simplistic and pastoral Viking doom of old has morphed or evolved in an altogether more ferocious format. This album has more black bile and nasty, razor-cut guitar riffs than pretty much anything put out fromSwedenin the last couple of years. The main riff, for example, in the middle of “Boatman’s Call” has an absolutely filthy quality, with a mid-tempo stomp and bags of attitude that the likes of Nifelheim used to call their own. Likewise, the incredible main vocals have also gone from the somnambulant croon of yore into vastly more blackened territory, with an absolutely committed delivery that scares as much as it inspires. Subtle use of echo produces a cavern-like, troll-ish quality that massively adds to the atmosphere of the music.

The melodies that made Ereb Altor such an engaging doom listen are still here, only now they’re played twice as quickly, and with much more of a defiant, nasty swagger. They’ve managed to cleverly retain the baby, and the bottom of the bathwater, while refilling the rest of it with an undisclosed black liquid that swirls and corrupts everything it touches. Not quite totally black metal, but certainly much more closely aligned to that fragile intersection between old school thrash, epic metal and black metal, Gastrike has everything you could possibly want from an impressive modern album. It has links to the past, but refuses to be defined by it – so that while Bathory and the occasional flashes of Emperor at their most progressive (“The Gathering of Witches”, in particular), there are also plenty of ideas of their own, as with the terrifying “Seven”.

I did really love the “old” Ereb Altor, but to be honest, the new band have produced an amazing piece of work on this album. It’s classic, but it’s new. It’s melodic but it’s filthy. It’s hypnotic and it’s raging. In short: it’s bound to be in the top ten this year. Bloody stunning.

(9/10 Chris Davison)