With all the hype and focus that has been centred onto USBM in recent years – the breakout of the so-called ‘Cascadian’ scene kickstarted by Weakling & Agalloch, then catapulted into the light by Wolves in the Throne Room, the swirling dungeonic sounds of Xasthur, Leviathan, Demoncy et al and the polarizing works of Deafheaven – it’s easy to overlook that there are still a few souls from the very earliest days of American black metal still plying their trade with little time for compromise. Absu is the most obvious culprit, however Black Funeral are another such beast and despite first crawling into life in 1994, mainman Michael Ford continues to unleash his own brand of blasphemy over two decades later.
Like any band with such a lengthy history, Ford has steered his ship through a number of stylistic shifts with variable results, however Black Funeral’s strengths have always seemed to lie in delivering a harsh, uncompromising yet surprisingly melodic form of sinister black metal. ‘Ankou and the Death Fire’ sees the band return to this formula – it’s raw as hell, seemingly tracked live in the rehearsal room, yet there’s an undeniable vein of melody that bleeds from the whole thing.
‘Shadows of Obour’ is a statement-of-intent opener, nearly ten minutes long and laced with corrosive menace. Ford (aka Baron Drakkonian Abbaddon) delivers ghastly larynx torment with gusto – high in the mix, gurgling and howling over the percussive din and sawing guitars. The surprisingly jaunty title track follows in much the same vein with melodic riffs and the booming clatter of the percussion. In many ways, there are a lot of sonic similarities between this record and early ‘Strength and Honour’-era Satanic Warmaster – the grim vigour of the low-fi production, frantic battery and unrestrained vocals lending a pleasingly old-school charm to proceedings.
Black Funeral keep things relatively simple here, throwing little by way of variation into the mix – eerie, wailing soundscapes waft across ‘Labous an Ankou’ whilst several tracks are ushered in by suitably dark atmospheric – but satisfyingly grim and old-school melodic BM is the order of the day here. There’s barely a second of genuine innovation or deviation from their template and you suspect that this is very much how the band like things.
As a man who has a soft-spot for Black Funeral’s older material (‘Vampyr – Throne of the Beast’ and ‘Empire of Blood’), ‘Ankou and the Death Fire’ represents an enjoyable, nostalgic listen. For those who yearn for some lo-fi conviction amongst today’s slew of overproduced and slick black metal, this record could provide the perfect tonic.
(7.5/10 Frank Allain)