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Deathspell Omega - Untitled Vinyl Box CD (album) cover

UNTITLED VINYL BOX

Deathspell Omega

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.00 | 1 ratings

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CassandraLeo
4 stars Not to be confused with the later box set collecting the band's Mikko Aspa-era "trilogy" material, this vinyl box set collects Deathspell Omega's earlier Shaxul-era material, from before they evolved towards orthodox Satanism and also before they introduced the degree of complexity into their music for which they are now known. It's become a cliché to dismiss Deathspell's earlier works as primitive Darkthrone worship, but this is unfair. The band certainly adhered to the primitive recording quality associated with the genre at this stage in their career, and their songs were certainly less complex during this era than they are now, but there are still plenty of head-spinning time signature changes and lengthy compositions here (discs 3 and 5 in particular average around seven minutes per song).

Infernal Battles is the band's first album, collecting four new songs on side one with the band's earlier demo on side two. The cheaply recorded demo is the only material in this set that truly sounds like nothing more than Darkthrone worship, and even this uses unconventional time signatures starting with the first song. The recording quality is very low, however, with most frequencies over 10 kHz being inaudible. However, the band makes up for this with some truly magnificent riffs. This isn't likely to appeal to progheads, but it's good stuff nonetheless. The other side of the album has better recording quality, and already showcases a growth in musicianship and composition from the demo tracks. The band later re-recorded "Drink the Devil's Blood" for Si monumentum requires, circumspice, but the song is already impressive here. The other songs are of a similar calibre.

I'm going to review this material in rough chronological order rather than in the order the box set presents it, so next up we have Manifestations 2000-2001 (which collects material from splits with Moonblood and Mütiilation and the Black Metal Blitzkrieg sampler) and the material from the Clandestine Blaze split. (Note to interested parties: Clandestine Blaze is a solo project of Mikko Aspa, who is generally assumed to be Deathspell's second vocalist; however, none of the band's material is presented here, as only the Deathspell Omega sides of their splits are presented). The band stretches out at length here, and explores styles not commonly associated with Deathspell Omega; "The Suicide Curse", for example, could be considered an example of depressive/suicidal black metal. The riffs here are even more solid than those on their début, and the band is actually shockingly melodic here for people only familiar with the band's later material. This is still fairly primitive stuff, but a growth in musicianship is clearly observable here, and for people who enjoy old-school black metal on its own terms like I do, much of it will prove to be a slice of musical heaven.

Inquisitors of Satan dials back the song lengths slightly, but the band's growth in musicianship is further evident here. The riffs remain killer throughout the record and the audio quality is a step up from earlier material. The lyrical subject matter remains fairly standard-issue black metal fare, with little of the philosophical sophistication found on later releases, but that's fine for what this is. This album is generally regarded as the best of the band's Shaxul-era full lengths, and I can't disagree with the conventional wisdom here.

Manifestations 2002 collects material recorded in 2002 intended for splits but not released until 2008. It provides a missing link between the more primitive black metal the band recorded earlier in its career and the more complex Mikko Aspa-era material that would make them famous. It's easy to see why Shaxul, who has favoured more primitive material in his solo career, got disillusioned with the band's direction here and left; the band was unquestionably moving towards progressive black metal here. This may be the strongest material in this collection, although my personal favourites are Manifestations 2000-2001 and the Clandestine Blaze split.

Now, the obligatory audio quality note: The first disc appears to have been remastered for vinyl, without the "loudness war" problems of the CD version (which, to begin with, were the least severe of any of the albums in this collection). The album is, however, the most primitively recorded of Deathspell's material, with the demo side being truly lo-fi. Unfortunately, none of the other discs appear to have undergone similar remastering, and it's worth noting that the mastering of the Manifestations collections, in particular, was very bad, with audible clipping on every song. This is honestly the only demerit I can give this set from a technical standpoint (it would have been nice to have black or clear vinyl available, but the audio fidelity here isn't really of the level where it makes much of a difference).

In summation, whether you enjoy this collection will mostly come down to whether you enjoy black metal for its own sake or whether you only enjoy the more progressive strains of the genre. This set clearly depicts a band evolving from primitive black metal to progressive black metal, but most of the actual progressive material is left out. If Deathspell Omega had only recorded this material, they almost certainly wouldn't have an entry on Prog Archives. However, for interested listeners, this set will prove to be a goldmine. It's also an instructive listen for people who want to hear a band evolve from more primitive material to more complex material. I can't recommend this set for everyone, and you'll probably know from reading this review whether you'll be likely to enjoy it or not. For the people who enjoy this kind of music, though, this collection is difficult to pass up.

CassandraLeo | 4/5 |

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