There are always big hints put about by black metal bands suggesting the worship of dark gods. But very few musicians wear their black hearts so prominently on their sleeves as the driving force behind Thy Darkened Shade. Semjaza is probably better known for his involvement with that other excellent Greek band Acrimonious as well as outfits like Nadiwrath and Kawir. He also seems more than happy, at least from what I’ve seen online recently, to candidly offer up his spiritual leanings and what he describes as the ‘Gods of the Dark’ – and the incitement and worship thereof. Conversely, this album does quite the opposite. It seems to steadfastly resist giving itself up like some unmarked monolithic structure stretching from one horizon to the next. It’s not that it purposely wants to make your job as listener harder – there are plenty of big sweeping moments here that the average black metal fan will find thoroughly entertaining. But the challenge is to get a view of this album that takes in the whole. It’s as if Semjaza is suggesting that this whole chaos worship thing might not be as easy as us unenlightened ones might imagine – or maybe he’s just more preoccupied with attracting the attention of other less mortal beings. Either way, you may find yourself feeling like you have to meet him more than halfway.
Liber Lvcifer I is thick with riffs, ever evolving and complex arrangements and subtle changes in direction that could even be seen as overwhelming at first – especially given the album is almost 80 minutes long. And it hacks and slashes its way through from start to finish with very little preamble or with any of the usual ambient distractions that would normally pad out such a magnum opus for an extra 20 minutes or so. It is, broadly speaking, black metal of a very orthodox variety and firmly rooted in the second wave of Norwegian bands and particularly the likes of Satyricon and Emperor. That broadly defined sound is then wrapped in chugging riffs, a bit of blackened thrash and sporadic helpings of religious chanting, Eastern acoustics and rasping vocals courtesy of ‘The A’. It’s also very densely packed in a way that you know with absolute certainty that there was blood sweat and tears involved in its creation – and I have no doubt that ‘creation’ is the way Semjaza sees it too. A very Lovecraftian creation in the sense that it is almost impossible to focus on it in its entirety at first. But it’s also, despite the obvious demands this album is going to have on your time, easy enough to see from the outset that there is greatness in here beyond its immediate musical influences. Unlocking it requires time and patience – two things which I am laughably short of these days but, a willing slave to the darker recesses of black metal, I persevered.
And so, gradually and with occult-shrouded stealth – and the help of flourishing riffs and a few begrudging but firmly-planted hooks – Liber Lvcifer I begins to construct itself into its unholy and monstrous design. What at first appears unwieldy and dangerously nebulous begins to take form on a vast, dark canvass. The utter disregard for brevity is not dissimilar to fellow Greek countrymen Acherontas (particularly Amenti). But the heart of Liber Lvcifer I seems to be rooted as much in Swedish bands like Dissection and Arkanum – those torchbearers for the worshipful. The first half of Liber Lvcifer I ebbs and flows around those typically black metal structures and is probably looser in terms of the overall direction. I actually took to listening to the album from various points in order to help dissect it (blasphemy in the eyes of its creator I’m sure) and found that track four and six were ideal starting points! The last 35 minutes – four of the eleven songs – then begins to draw all the work done in the first half together into a more focused and bristling salute to the forces of the dark. Then speed gathers and you can feel the ceremony drawing to a lengthy and rapturous climax.
With repeated listens this actually becomes a fairly effortless journey through the world of Thy Darkened Shade. Soaring guitar solos, angular riffs, tremolo crescendos, drifting waves of choruses and chugging, blackened riffs. There’s a relentlessness to Liber Lvcifer I that means, whenever and wherever you drop into it, you’re caught up in its restless, sweeping drive onwards and on your journey into the ritual. Soaring over dark waters, through underground caverns and standing on high cliffs looking over plains of black ash – all in the presence of something very dark indeed. It’s all more than worth the effort if you have the energy and desire to immerse yourself into something completely heartfelt and vast. Thy Darkened Shade has given us the opportunity to cloak yourself in darkness and to peer behind the veil. To truly appreciate that you must seize it with both hands.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)