The law of averages says that one day Fólkvangr’s remarkable winning streak will come to an end, and the label will release an album that I don’t like. And when that finally happens, I’m sure it’ll be okay. The bromance between Fólkvangr and the Vault is strong enough to survive something like that. Fortunately, though, today isn’t the day I have to put that theory to the test, because The Imprisoning War, the debut full-length from Pennsylvania-based symphonic black metal duo Hate Moon, might be the best thing the label has ever released.
In many ways, The Imprisoning War, which is also Fólkvangr’s first exclusive release, feels like a throwback to the 90s. There’s a strong second-wave Norwegian influence in both the lo-fi production and guitarist/bassist/vocalist Tohmar’s trebly, buzzsaw riffs. However, there’s a lot more going on here than mere Burzum worship. For starters, the band draws on their shared Irish/Norse heritages and infuses the music with a serious Norse-Gael influence, both in terms of some of the melodies within the music and the lyrical content. Tohmar’s vocals—which are dominated by shrieks so painful sounding that I’d be stunned if he wasn’t coughing up blood between takes—are clear enough that most of the lyrics are actually understandable as well, which is a welcome departure from the norm for this style of music.
The other remarkable thing about the record is the way that the band incorporates the symphonic elements into their lo-fi approach. For the most part, I roll my eyes at contemporary symphonic black metal because so much of it tends to be way too overwrought and self-seriously bombastic possibly take seriously. However, younger readers used to the Dimmu Borgirs of the world might not realize that wasn’t always the case. On Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, for example, Ihsahn played simple chord changes on a keyboard in order to create the melancholy symphonic accents he wanted. Tuathail takes a similar approach on The Imprisoning War, but he seems to have deliberately chosen the most artificial tone he could find to use on the record. Far from being a distraction, the reedy keys actually fit perfectly with the overall aesthetic of the record and complement the guitar tone quite well.
Usually by this point in a review I’ve mentioned at least one specific song as being a standout, The Imprisoning War works so well as a unit that picking out individual highlights is almost impossible. I do appreciate the way that opening instrumental “A Hero Awakens” and second track “Golden Power” share a musical motif that repeats first on the synth, then acoustic guitar, and finally as part of the main riff of the song. The riff to the opening mid-tempo section “Mountain of Death” takes a couple of unexpected turns, making it one of the strongest on the record. On the whole, though, the record is so consistent that it should be experienced in its entirety instead of simply trying to pick out a few high spots.
So just like the rest of their releases thus far, Fólkvangr has found yet another winner for their first exclusive release. What’s even more remarkable is that The Imprisoning War is Hate Moon’s debut release. Black metal fans definitely shouldn’t sleep on this one, because I have a feeling we’ll all be hearing a lot more about this band in the near future – especially around December when folks start talking about their favorite releases of the year.
The Imprisoning War will be available on September 15 on CD and digitally via Fólkvangr Records.