It might be a new year but it’s still winter, long may it reign! For in the colder months my lust for Black Metal grows. I’m like a Corpse-painted hibernating animal who only emerges to the sound of Battles In The North but once a year. I jest, I enjoy Black Metal the year round, yet there is a certain added pleasure when the weather is drab and bleak. It’s one of the few Metal clichés which I hold pretty dear and indeed feel that there is some mileage in. If you were to put on Cannibal Corpse in the middle of a forest it wouldn’t invoke the same emotion as Darkthrone.
Lurking in the background since 2003 Norway’s Svarttjern have lingered. Their output has been fairly well received and indeed their incline has been steady. I had the pleasure of witnessing the band live whilst supporting Behemoth/ Cradle Of Filth and whilst it wasn’t the biggest Black Metal production I’ve ever seen, something stuck. The 2014 Ultimatum Necrophilia entered my listening pool for a time. Now, following their 2016 release Dødsskrik the band are back with their 2020 fifth full length, Shame Is Just A Word. The album comes from Soulseller Records, but can it be the final push to the upper limits of Black Metal royalty?
As I had pretty well assumed the opener Prince Of Disgust is essentially nothing new or innovative. Yet this has always been my appeal when it comes to Svarttjern. There is a definite venom in the vocals through some decent rasping pronunciation. This is backed by traditional yet somewhat Thrash infused Black Metal guitars and drums. A violent and delightful display full of hooks and invigorating savagery. There appears to be no let up as we enter Melodies Of Lust. The album almost takes me back to the early days of Watain with an added more gruff nature. This is polished yet gritty Black Metal.
Heading into the second half we are greeted with perhaps one of the best and most aggressive tracks on the record, Frost Embalmed Abyss. This is a powerful and purist Black Metal crusher that really sets the bar high for the rest of Svarttjern’s output to come. Ravish Me which follows serves to be almost on par, full of that familiar violence we have come to love from Svarttjern. This is a track which really emphasises the Watain sound as well, something which I’m not complaining about. Then comes the controversial point, a cover of Exodus’ classic Bonded By Blood. I’m no fan of covers and I find the placement of this one unnecessary. A bonus track maybe but not just stuck in the release. Moaning still the riffs stick out like a sore thumb amid the rest of the release and indeed it suffers the Extreme Metal vocals covering cleans treatment a touch, not for me thanks. Thankfully the closing title track is a fast paced affair that brings things back into focus and to a decent closure.
So aside from a cover Shame Is Just A Word is a really strong release full of modern Black Metal production infused with more traditional ideals. I really thought that 2019 was a pinnacle for the Metal underground, and whilst this may only be among the first releases I’ve heard in 2020 I’d say that this year could be another good one. Often times I get a bit blue as it feels like the less exciting releases tend to be at the very start of the year, yet Shame Is Just A Word has perked me up. That might not be the intention of such a visceral album but it’s true both with a ‘u’ and a ‘v’.
(8/10 George Caley)