Named after the cataclysmic final battle in Scandinavian mythology, Ragnarok have consistently been delivering a fitting soundtrack for this version of Armageddon for a quarter of century and are marking this with the release of their ninth album ‘Non Debellicata’.
The title refers back to a phrase reportedly used by Jarl Alv Erlingsson (Nobleman and Earl of Sarpsborg) in a letter sent to the Scottish Government in 1286 following their confiscation of numerous Norwegian ships. This phrase was subsequently adopted in years gone by as the motto for Sarpsborg (Ragnarok’s home town) and to this day remains the motto of Fossefallet, the supporters’ club for the city’s football club.
As far as my limited Norwegian takes me, ‘Non Debellicata’ translates to ‘Not Overcome/Defeated’ and is apt for this belligerent slab of Norwegian Black Metal, which opens with the title track and a defiant statement of intent with huge riffs and percussion seemingly straining at the leash which eventually gives way and the track erupts into a rampaging display of outright aggression. As soon as this is over, ‘Chapel of Shadows’ begins with no time wasted on subtle fading out or introspective intros. Rasping, growled vocals sit atop a pummelling melee until the rhythm changes from battering to galloping and it becomes impossible to keep your head still as the infectious grooves take hold. Eventually the melody becomes more prominent over a chiming bell creating a sinister atmosphere.
A similar pattern follows on ‘Sanctimoneous’ as a malevolent guitar melody opens the track and remains at its malignant core throughout. Echoic spoken word vocals intermittently replace the prevailing venomous vocals, and as the song builds a pulsating rhythm once more takes over.
The album continues in the same vein with vibrant swirling melodies competing with a raging, vitriolic onslaught for dominance. There is no let up, no acoustic interludes, no atmospheric passages, just no nonsense black metal. Even when the foot is taken off the accelerator, such as during ‘Jonestown Lullaby’s’ menacing melody and spoken word intro, there is such an ominous, dense atmosphere so that the intensity remains as claustrophobic as ever (This is no lullaby!).
The album is brought to a close with ‘Asphyxiation’, whose bass line intro is shattered by a bellowing growl, as hypnotic rhythms and melodies create a stifling, oppressive atmosphere which ends abruptly leaving silence and a feeling of relief.
With the magnificent aural maelstrom that is ‘Non Debellicata’, Ragnarok have managed to achieve that difficult balance of remaining true to their roots but also sounding contemporaneous and as relevant today as ever. In recent years it seems that the band have had something of a resurgence on the back of some strong releases and intense live shows, not least the explosive (literally) show at last year’s Inferno Festival. This resurgence is set to continue with ‘Non Debellicata’, and an upcoming European tour, including UK dates which promise to be an intense affair. Miss them at your peril.
(9/10 Andy Pountney)