Stalsarg-CoverIt wasn’t that they contain ex-members of Eastern Front and yet still play war-themed blackened death metal that initially intrigued me about UK band Stahlsarg; no it was that they managed to produce their own branded beer before producing their debut album! Now sadly no beer arrived to review with the promo (that or Thee Ed drank it!)  so I can’t compare it to current metal brand leaders Trooper ale or The Black Metal Brewery. Thankfully though the album is quite tasty by itself.

Stahlsarg have a sound that is quite deceptive really; it bears the hallmarks of a straightforward battery a tad reminiscent musically though not vocally thankfully of early less orchestrated Cradle Of Filth minus the keyboards. Mid paced, dense riffing with a hard drum sound drive forward the polished but gritty sound relentlessly and the good, snarling vocals bring the fog of war down. Good stuff but not hugely distinctive. However it’s when the fourth track ‘Damocles XIII’ creeps in you feel the need to start all over again as plainly I’d missed things.

So going back I still find the opening song ‘Razed To The Ground’ a bit of an ok-but-not-spectacular introduction to the band despite its onwards, determined nature and faintly punky bounce. ‘Seelow Heights’ has its moments though; bursts of edgy black metal melody sharpening the death metal bludgeon to good effect but never quite grabs me and ultimately outstays its welcome. The unusually titled ‘From Factory To Fortress Of Rubble And Iron’ has a fine riff and is a much better showcase for Stahlsarg’s tempo changes and is the first sign that their ominous rumble has a real beast behind it.

‘Damocles XIII’ though is a wonderful slow, creeping, brooding death knell of a song. Not only do we get a thick, black atmosphere but with a keening darkly melodic refrain and great variation in the vocals and militaristic drumming it envelops you and drags you down into the trench mud to die. Truly excellent. Next track ‘Wolves Of The Sea’ is another; mixing up pace from fourth gear down to slow prowl it paints a dark, stormy scene of fear of what broods below the waves. OK, so Stahlsarg are a force to be reckoned with. Excellent.

‘Under The Shadow Of The Silver Runes’ is good old beat down of choppy riff and ack-ack drumming that works well as a respite before the great, eerie almost Sargeist like riff and melody of ‘Castle Wewelsburg’ descends. Another fine, gripping song with plenty of time variation without relinquishing either drive or atmosphere, this shows deeper black metal roots than perhaps the first part of the album with just a pinch of Bolt Thrower maybe.

The production here is efficient rather than spectacular; but then I find an odd thing happening on the thrashy ‘Frostbite Division ‘ where suddenly the sound seems to rise and the treble end becomes sharper, the bass a little more distinct which suits the song beautifully (no, not my player or my headphones; maybe the vagaries of MP3.) Another excellent song. Closing song ‘In The City Of Trapped Souls’ despite its predominantly slower tempo lacks a little of these brooding quality of ‘Damocles XIII’ but is nonetheless a good closer.

Comrades In Death is a good, solid debut album for a band not short on ideas, inspiration or songs. A couple of tracks lean a little too heavily on the standard death metal shorthand choppy riff ‘n’ bark routine for me but when they indulge themselves and dive into the more rolling but no less brutal sounds and bleak black melodies of ‘Damocles… ‘ and ‘Wolves..’ or the harsher rip of ‘Frostbite Division’ there is real menace, atmosphere and identity. In short just what you want from a new band.

A good solid album, a fine debut and the serious promise of lots more to come. Watch this front.

Now to hunt down that AWOL beer…

(7.5/10 Gizmo)