Since the Vault’s resident kvltbois Aaron Dexter Bray of Black Metal Daily and our Senior Editor Clayton T. Michaels have enjoyed doing their tag-team reviews so much over the last few months – and since our loyal Vault Hunters seem to be digging them as well – they’ve decided to go ahead and make a regular column out of it. So welcome to the (not really) first installment of Kvltists in the Vault. This time, ADB and CTM are joined by everyone’s favorite diabolical kitty, KVLTCAT.
Check out what this infernal triumvirate have to say about Unbound, the ‘surprise’ fifth full-length from Finnish masters Sargeist, which is now available from World Terror Committee Productions / Blut & Eisen Prod.
CTM: So before diving in here, this is the first time our Satanic feline friend has joined us for one of these reviews, so let us give a hearty welcome to KvltCat!
ADB: I can’t decide between “abandon all hope, ye who enter here” or chanting the “one of us… one of us…” from Freaks as a welcome.
KVLTCAT: I prefer the former. More pirate-like.
CTM: Are pirates kvlt? The only pirate band I’m really familiar with is Alestorm, who I once had to suffer through a set from in order to see Insomnium. If so, that would make…keytars kvlt? Fuck..typing that sentence made me dizzy…
I’ll admit that when word of Unbound started popping up in my Facebook feed, the cynical side of my personality immediately thought ‘An unannounced Sargeist album? Well, it’s official – black metal has bought into the whole surprise release thing.’ But then I thought about it for a minute and was like….okay, I can actually see this. First new album in four years, fresh off of what I’ve heard was a very successful run of US dates – there probably would have been a fair amount of pre-release hype for this album. Throw in how unbelievably consistent Shatraug’s output has been over Sargeist’s nearly 20-year existence, and considering how many of the other black metal bands with that kind of longevity have lost interest in the genre (Darkthrone), basically become legacy acts (Mayhem), are subsisting mostly on a series of manufactured, clickbait-inducing controversies (Marduk), or…well, whatever you want to call the whole Immortal/Abbath situation…
ADB: A shambles, that’s what you call that situation. I’m just happy none of the others you mentioned have ‘done an Inquisition,’ to be honest. Anyway, yep, this album was a surprise (although I do have a vague tickling in the back of my brain that they mentioned it in passing somewhere once. Like, a single sentence), and a very pleasant one at that! Holy fuck, is this thing better than I could have imagined.
KVLTCAT: I think that an unannounced album is a pleasant break from the routine, over-produced black metal releases of today. Perhaps the secrecy contributed to the pristine result.
CTM: Have Sargeist suddenly become the revered elder statesmen of the second wave? If they have, then Unbound is a fucking beast of a victory lap.
ADB: I’m…actually more comfortable than I thought I would be to give them that title. When you say the words “black metal” to me, the sound of this album is an almost exact approximation of what pops into my head, and not in a way that means it’s generic. It’s almost literally what I want to hear when I think of black metal. I fucking love Sargeist, and for Shatraug to still be churning out work of this quality while sticking to tradition beautifully yet still sounding fresh, is frankly amazing.
KVLTCAT: Not only is this “textbook” black metal, it’s memorable, which is a true testament to this beastly victory lap. The riffs in “To Wander the Night’s Eternal Path” have been looping in my head as I write this. Sargeist sadly doesn’t get the notoriety that more controversial groups which I don’t need to name get while their tracks are often higher quality. It’s a reflection of the current large black metal community and what draws most to the genre.
CTM: Yeah…it seems odd to say since they’re Finnish and didn’t really become active until the tail end of the second wave, but if there’s anyone representing the style in a stronger fashion right now, I haven’t heard them.
ADB: Word. What do you guys think of the production value on this one? At first, I was slightly affronted. Now I dig it.
CTM: I assume that by ‘production value’ you’re referring to the fact that it has them? I was unsure about them at first as well, but then I heard the opening riff to “Unbound” for the first time and was like ‘yep – this absolutely needed cleaner production.’ Shatraug completely outdid himself in the songwriting on this album. Maybe the addition of VJS from Nightbringer, who’s making his first studio appearance with the band here, lit a fire under him, because Unbound is totally riff-gasmic. It would have been a damn-near tragedy to have lost some of those dynamics due to some ‘we recorded this on a potato’ kvlt production.
KVLTCAT: I mean, I wouldn’t say that this album has the least potato kvlt production I’ve ever heard. For me, it drifts in and out of lo-fi and more-produced moments and that’s what made it an enjoyable listen for me. I especially enjoy the upbeat entrance of “Death’s Empath” on this album.
ADB: I thought about the Nightbringer influence as well, plus the Desolate Shrine guys; they had to have had a strong influence on at least the sound, and Shatraug sounds reinvigorated as hell. Either way, I’m bloody glad it happened as these riffs/songs are indeed amazing. The opening of “Death’s Empath,” definitely; plus the entire track. Headbanging stuff. And all unmistakably Sargeist.
Speaking of Desolate Shrine – how do we all feel about Profundus/MT’s throatwork in comparison to Hoath Torog’s (stellar, in my opinion) efforts with the band?
CTM: That is an excellent question. Fun fact: I had seven solid hours of one-on-one conferences with two of my classes the other day, and I had one of those auto-generated ‘Top Tracks’ Sargeist playlist going on YouTube for at least half that time. Like…’okay, I’ll take your essay – while I read it, you just sit there and let the devil in.’ The funniest part? My students know my personality well enough that none of them seemed the least bit fazed by it.
All joking aside – of course, there were tracks from the new album on the playlist right alongside classics like “Satanic Black Devotion,” “Returning to Misery & Comfort,” and “Let the Devil In.” If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve spent a metric fuckton of time listening to Unbound lately, I don’t know if I’d have immediately picked out the newer songs because of a different vocalist. Now that I am paying attention, though, Profundus does sound slightly more guttural in places than HT, but not distractingly so. I can’t imagine anyone who’s been a fan since Satanic Black Devotion getting hung up on the change in vocalist.
KVLTCAT: Call me uncultured, but the margin in gutterality is lost on me between the two. More interesting than that is how such a long-standing act can switch vocalists and only continue to improve musically with no interruption in sonic quality.
ADB: Spot on – it’s fucking uncanny how well Profundus has taken over. You can barely tell there’s been a switch, and they sound better than ever. Actually, I don’t know about you guys but I’ve seen absolutely nobody hanging shit on any aspect of this album at all, which is astounding given the usual reaction to… well, anything that gets released nowadays. Like, I haven’t seen one negative opinion of it.
KVLTCAT: Hard to hang shit when there’s just no hook on this album.
CTM: Way to trigger my contrarian instinct. Fuck this album – Dimmu Borgir’s Eonian is infinitely more kvlt and sooooooo much better than Unbound.
Just kidding…I think Doña Gato Satanico put it perfectly earlier. This is ‘textbook’ black metal – with some truly memorable songwriting and essentially flawless execution.
KVLTCAT: I agree – and it makes me wonder which of two scenarios may play out in terms of the next Sargeist album: Will they fall into a cycle of releasing very similar and very good albums one after another (think Drudkh), or will they go off the deep end and release some collection of weird experimental tracks. Time will tell.
ADB: Perhaps they’ll do a trap tune, that’s all the rage apparently. Nah, I’m honestly just trying to hold myself back from spouting effusive praise, at this point. Can I say I fucking love this record? Because I fucking love this record.
CTM: Easily one of the best two or three black metal albums to come out this year. Do we even deserve Sargeist? I’m about to pull a Wayne’s World here: We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!
So…anything else to add here? Or are we ready for final grades?
KVLTCAT: I’m ready. Solid A. I can neither complain nor suggest improvements to this album.
CTM: Same here – solid A. How much of a poser move would it be to call it my black metal AOTY?
ADB: We’re already posers, so don’t stress. But I agree: Unbound is an astonishing album, packed with instant classics that call to mind all shades of the band’s past offerings, and possesses unlimited replay-ability. It’s everything I could ever have asked for from a new record. Hail Sargeist. Definite A.