Anyone who thought black metal legends Urgehal would dream of serving up half measures on their final album need only look at the guest list. Like a Who’s Who of Norwegian black metal, the list includes Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto, Hoest from Taake, Carpathian Forest’s Nattefrost as well as several times as many more contributors from across the region – Tsjuder, Koldbrann and, something of an outsider, at least geographically, Sweden’s Niklas Kvarforth. If that’s not enough to have you mindlessly ordering the vinyl limited edition before you’ve even clasped your ears on the results, and you need a little more encouragement, then let me just add this — it would be worth it.
Urgehal may be best known for ‘that’ cover from 2003’s From Thick Fog Till Death (if you’ve never seen it, let’s just say, your mother really really wouldn’t like it) but the quality of their output has barely skipped a beat over the past two decades. Even the more recent Ikonoclast, the final full length with vocalist and guitarist Trondr Nefas, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 34, is effortlessly grim-faced and yet crackling with the sort of searing riffs and psychotic solos that could easily be used as a benchmark for entry to the rest of the scene. What you get with Urgehal is enviable consistency delivery combined with blood-streaked, hammer-blow black metal viciousness. In short, a mailed fist. In. Your. Face.
Indeed, as a celebration of a life, as this is, Aeons in Sodom is one hell of a tribute. Drenched in black metal punk attitude and some thrilling break-neck riffs, this last release could even represent something of a career high. Tracks like The Iron Children and Psychedelic Evil have an almost party atmosphere while shadowy black n roll of The Sulphur Black Haze (introducing Hoest) and Endetid provide some classic black metal to lose yourself in. But rather than feeling patchy, as albums with a gang of contributors can sometimes falter through, Aeons in Sodom never once loses its focus and its six-inch nail-encased grip.
The first half of the album starts on a high. The intro and the second track (with Nocturno Culto on vocals) are worth the price of entry alone, Turn up a notch for track three for an excitable, frothing rant through We Are The Legion. And either of those could be the best track on most albums. But Urgehal have saved the best for the last four fifths of the album. It really does get better and better. This is crow-bar waving black metal – no subtlety to see here. Nothing but an ambition to pull-off a total black metal adrenaline assault.
So if you find yourself wandering down the road this year and wondering whether black metal has lost it and whether you’ll ever find the source of that ugly heart once more. Simply reach into the darkness and find that black heart beating once more to the sound of Urgehal’s Aeons in Sodom. Most likely Trend Neaps will be somewhere in Sodom, or wherever he’s ended up, and be eternally satisfied that this is far more than most of us will ever get as our swansong. Hopefully they might even give him a stereo to inflict on the rest of the population. Because this is a tribute worth hearing. Urgehal’s final hour has set the benchmark for the year very high indeed.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)