This is a solid slab of traditional black metal from a Swedish band who have been doing this for the past three decades. I say that now because it took me a while to get into it. I liked Nightfall, which opens up the album, but it didn't seem to do anything new. Only when Let the Devil In kicked off in interesting fashion with some unusual drums did I start to pay attention and it still took a listen or three to really get into the album. The biggest problem it has is that much of it is very traditional in delivery, albeit with very capable production, which means that, if you're a black metal fan, and you probably are if you're reading this review, there's nothing here that will be new to you.
I've heard Dark Funeral before, but I don't believe I've heard anything from them since album two in 1998, Vobiscum Satanas, so I'm out of touch with what they've been doing. Revisiting that album to refresh myself, I realise that the band's sound has indeed changed over time, albeit not too far. While these are still generally fast songs, they're not as frantic as they were at the tail end of the previous millennium and some, like Let the Devil In, are notably slower. Also, the vocal delivery of Heljamadr, the band's fourth singer, is deeper and much more confidently delivered, with capable diction and intonation. I like his approach a lot.
Perhaps one of my problems with Nightfall was that it reminded me at points of a song with quite a similar name but which belongs to another genre entirely. That's Nightfall by the Shore of Time, also an opening track, but from the debut Dark Tranquillity album, Skydancer, so nascent melodic death metal rather than black. This Nightfall is faster, of course, but with a similar energy, similar changes in tempo and similar pauses before all the mentions of the title in the lyrics. I had similar thoughts on other tracks too, especially When I'm Gone.
It's odd to listen to what's clearly a black metal album but keep hearing connections to something that isn't, but it certainly flavoured how I felt this album and that meant that I had to get used to the idea over a few listens before I could fully appreciate what Dark Funeral are doing here in the better moments of the album. And, once I'd got to that point, I started hearing other bands, with only some of them black metal. There's Satyricon in Let the Devil In, for instance, which might be expected, but Paradise Lost in When I'm Gone and Leviathan, which isn't.
Maybe that's why I like When I'm Gone so much and, as a wild generality, the slower of these songs more than the faster, which is contrary to my usual tastes. In fact, even on faster songs like Beyond the Grave, which blisters along just as it should, it's the slower section that spoke to me most. Thus I find myself in the odd position of thinking negatively about this album because much of it feels so traditional while simultaneously enjoying all the songs and sections that aren't. I wonder if Dark Funeral are torn about whether they should slow down and try something new or carry on in a vein that they've been mining for a quarter of a century now.
Where I ended up was liking this a lot more than I thought I would after my first time through. It's a very reliable black metal album, even if it isn't often a surprising one, and I very much want to be surprised by their next album. Of course, it took them six years to knock this one out so it may be a while before that next one comes along. Let's hope not.