Album number 6 for Sarke and they don’t seem to be letting up. The past black and roll has given way to more of an epic groove driven sound that still drips icy evilness from every pore.  The fact that Sarke is seen as a project of Thomas “Sarke” Bergli and not a Nocturno Culto thing is tantamount to the body of work they have built up and their unique sound.

“Ghost War” bursts free to assault me first with a huuugggge chugging riff and some icy necro guitar passages. The solo reminds me of Andy La Rocque’s eerie efforts and the orchestrated keys add to the ambience.  “Echoes from the Ancient Crucifix“ is disturbingly groovesome . Like hip swaying  groovy which is made all the more poignant by Culto’s vocals straining to almost breaking point. The rhythm section of Sarke and Terje Krabol keep everything together with a languid tightness.

“Mausoleum” see’s Anders Hunstad take centre stage with his orchestral stabs. It is a little bit Children of Bodom in its beginning but soon sinks to an eerie dirge with some grandiose cinematic textures. It feels a little muddled for my tastes and the keys sound a little too electronic and don’t blend as well with the organic nature of the other instruments here. The synthesized sound is more befitting of a new wave act.

A soft spoken word track is a surprise. Sarke have used poetic spoken vocals before on “Viige Urh” but never in such a mellow way as on “The Endless Wait” Clean male spoken passages tell the tale of unrequited love then repeated by a passionate female voice – I cannot find any info as to who it is. Most unexpected. A real change of pace and medium but it works magnificently.

“Ties of Blood” is back to Sarke basics – blackened biker rock with Stian Krabol laying down beefy metal riffs alongside Steinar Gundersen’s tasty lead. “Bring me the pain. Bring me the violence”. Indeed. “In the Flames” is up next with the synthesizers set to stun again. A mid plodding song that never really gets going. All very competent but somewhat lacking.

Then like a bolt between the eyes I am hit by “Rebellious Bastard”. “A black and white poster hanging on the wall. Young naked girls lying on the floor”.  This is a metal punk song if ever there was one.  Like the Anti Nowhere League with spikes and bullet belts. Nocturno Culto sneers his way through the track “ I can see you on the other side  . Drinking champagne in your jaguar” he spits over a Spanish guitar bed.  I suppose this is the slap in the face to all the scene wannabes and sell outs. If anyone can wear the Kvlt police sheriff badge it is Ted.

“Cribs Hand” is the knell of this album and fittingly it puts into song the thoughts of a man readying himself for death and the blackness that follows. There is a passage that reminds me of Vince Clarke’s playing with Yazoo. I have to wonder if Anders has been on a bit of a UK synth pop trip in recent years as there is certainly quite a whiff of Basildon about “Gastwersto”. The unknown female vocalist returns and some lighter piano is joined by a guitar line that is straight out of the David Gilmour playbook.  Another surprise right at the end.

“Gastwersto” challenged me – it was not Sarke by numbers and the elements that I struggled with somewhat (the keys), I believe will soften with each listen. This is a really interesting album which mixes gloom, bleakness and brutality with light, passion and subtlety.

(7/10 Matt Mason)