panphageThis second full-length from Panphage follows hot on the heels of last year’s debut album ‘Storm’, demonstrating that sole protagonist Fjallbrandt is certainly in a rich vein of form currently. Now signed to Sweden’s Nordvis label, this sophomore effort shows that this seam of creativity has lead Panphage to cement itself as something of a force to be reckoned with.

Fjallbrandt’s recipe is at once relatively straightforward and beguiling, with repeated listens revealing hitherto hidden depths of inspiration. This is cold, harsh black metal – be in no doubt about that – revelling in a thin, harsh sound. The guitars hiss, the drums are treble-heavy and the vocals are distorted, sitting high in the mix. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of similarly lo-fi classics such as countrymen Katharsis’s ‘666’ or even Hate Forests seminal ‘Scythia’ album, particularly in the way the percussion propels the material forcefully.

Beneath the high-pitched fierceness of the sound lies a wealth of interesting songwriting ideas. The quasi-upbeat melodies of ‘Landrensningen’ are infectious and searing, the almost black ‘n’ roll stomp that kicks in during closer ‘Blodshamd’ is wonderful and the passionate cries that decorate the main hook of ‘Utlagr’ really stand out.

One could point to a wide source of influences here – at times, I’m reminded of Lunar Aurora’s ‘Andacht’ album, early Manes and the arpeggios that crop up mid-way through ‘Gettir Asmundarsonar’ even bring to mind Belus-era Burzum – but Panphage has weaved these ideas skilfully together and given the whole approach a distinctive sound. Waves of melodic chords and biting lead-lines are the defining feature here, given a characteristic bite by the unusually acerbic production.

A faint whiff of suspect sympathies from Panphage aside (pictures of AK47s and iron crosses on previous record sleeves, balaclavas e.t.c.), Drengskapr is a convincing black metal record indeed. At once honouring the traditions of black metal, resolutely uncompromising and yet still managing to fashion something undeniably distinctive, Panphage have added to the list of excellent releases that end of 2016 seems to have unleashed upon us.

(8.5/10 Frank Allain)