The unholy union of Funeral Mist’s Arioch and Marduk unleashed sonic black metal hell of a variety rarely seen – and firing new life into the Norwegian war machine as it did so. Those breathless words of demonic plague issued forth by Mortuus, as Arioch’s not-so-alter-ego in Marduk is known, has now become so much a part of the band that it’s difficult to imagine the panzer tank-obsessed foursome without him. With a flair for uneasy atmosphere and artistry of ugliness, Daniel Rostén has provided every album since Plague Angel (but Rom 5:12 and Wormwood both soar on wings of black, belching smoke like no others) with an extra dimension that made them into something so utterly different to anything else out there I find it hard to appreciate other bands immediately after a session with the blitzkrieg bleeding through my speakers or witnessing live onslaught.

So if Wormwood and Funeral Mist’s Marantha, both in the same year, felt like the absolute peak of Arioch / Mortuus’ combined powers – then it does feel a little bit like the Marduk has taken back some artistic ground more recently. First with Frontschwein (where admittedly Mortuus’ need for a bit of atmosphere and experimentation still seemed very much a part of the formula) and now to Viktoria, where I couldn’t help feel a little bit like it was an album that could have been written for pretty much any black metal vocalist. I’m intrigued by the fact Arioch has chosen to release this just as Marduk’s return to the source seems to have been complete. Maybe we can put the latter down to an aggressive ‘f*** you’ to some of the recent wave of bandwagon-jumping complaints about a band that never even tried to be right on (but at the same time you have to look really really hard to find anything more offensive than an unhealthy obsession with the Wehrmacht at a time when you’re likely to read far more offensive spoutings in the average Facebook or Twitter posting). I do hope Mortuus and Marduk stick together because it is a union that has lightened my days and darkened my nights perhaps more than any but a handful of bands over the past decade.

So with Marduk once more performing the blitzkrieg bop, all this makes this latest serving of writhing, anti-religious menace from Funeral Mist all the more timely and welcome. Almost a decade after his last release, Arioch is back to provide us with a window onto the other side – and if his vision of what’s waiting for us is accurate, may you live forever on this blessed mortal plane. Because what’s coming next is going to flay your wretched soul. Again and again for all eternity. Virtually all the tracks have Arioch’s insane trademark hooks that almost needlessly add spice to the darkly satisfying basic formula of sliding riffs that spiral down like the blues played through a demonically infested amp and richly and rhythmically delivered vocals that leave him in a field of one.

Kicking off with the sounds of a hollering US evangelist soon consumed by gurgling vocals, the introduction of a simmering bass line, and then a scything riff that opens fire into a searing assault that would even stay a full-frontal advance from Marduk itself. But Funeral Mist’s pedigree is in providing the kind of ugly emotion and the deft texture in riffs, varying tempos and classy touches when other bands would have just moved on to the next thing. The album may be held up, at least initially, by pillars like the attention-grabbing Cockatrice. But a corrupt attention to mail-fisted black metal intensity and detail even reveals itself in heads-down, mid-tempo chugging tracks like Naught But Death that suggests nothing here has been left to chance. Each of the tracks proves itself worthy in the final analysis as Arioch lets fly the pent up, grotesque genius that has felt on recent albums that it might get completely subsumed into Marduk’s steel-barbed caterpillar tracks.

This time round, part of the entertainment comes from some of the contrasting vocal styles (a wheezy, breathless strain playing off nicely against a violent roar on the opener) as well as the blasting beats that make Hekatomb much more a cousin of Wormwood and Serpent Sermon than Marantha. But those who fell for the more atmospheric moments back then, like the proverbial fallen angel for the delights of the world below, can satisfy themselves with the 7 and a-half minute Metamorphosis which rises and falls like the smooth, oily waves of a pitch black ocean unsettled by lurching presences below. Other tracks are wonderfully sweetened by aesthetic touches that make you realise we are in the presence of someone whose blackened genius is undeniable. The grandiose theatre of Marantha no doubt holds a special place in the hearts of the average Funeral Mist fan. But this is more a series of tactical strikes and may well leave you struggling to decide your favourite Funeral Mist album in the days that follow your first few spins.

By a whisker, my favourite track may just be Hosanna – a heartfelt roar in the face of the blind, single-minded monotheism. But even then there’s plenty left in the tank for the final six-minute Pallor Mortis which maintains the vortex of irrepressible anger, pain and ecstasy right until the final bars. Arioch is back. So just bathe in this pitch black void of religious rebellion and let the chilling mist seep into each and every pore.

(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)

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