Naglfar - Sheol
Century Media
Blackened Death Metal
9 songs (43'57")
Release year: 2003
Naglfar, Century Media
Reviewed by Alex

With some parts of the world plunging into chaos, the album named Sheol (Hebrew for Hell) seems to be the perfect soundtrack. Considering it comes from Naglfar, the band released only three full-length albums starting in 1995, I was really looking forward to hearing this one. While Vittra (1995) was a standout, Diabolical (1998) failed to impress me that much. Having bypassed a 2001 MCD Ex Inferis, Sheol was supposed to revitalize my attention towards Naglfar, or be the last album I heard from this band in a while. After a dozen Sheol listens I can honestly say that I will be awaiting the next album with great anticipation.

If Behemoth’s Zos Kia Cultus, reviewed a few weeks ago, reminded me of Morbid Angel, Naglfar reincarnated the spirit of long-gone Dissection with Sheol. However, while Storm of the Light’s Bane was both melodic and frozen, Naglfar’s Sheol is melodic, frozen, symphonic and blazing inferno all at the same time.

The band gets into it right away with three speedy ripping cuts I Am Vengeance, Black God Aftermath and Wrath of the Fallen. Symphonic feeling comes from the wall of fast, layered guitars which are, no doubt, a production emphasis point. Caustic buzzsaw riffs reverb continuously and die down only when leads are inserted. Such guitar playing by Andreas Nilsson and Marcus Norman creates a truly hellish atmosphere without resorting to cheap keyboard sound to achieve similar goal. Leads stand out, they often open tracks, are almost overtly melodic and quite complex (Black God Aftermath, Devoured by Naglfar).

Jens Ryden’s voice, another important piece of the puzzle, has improved tremendously. I was particularly impressed how much vocal arrangements fit the overall flow of the music. Scraping the bottom of his lungs or delivering a visceral scream, Jens is always right on. On top of it, he is trying very hard to articulate the words, so the lyrics are not all constant gargling blur. Symphonic and hellish guitar atmosphere combined with Ryden’s singing brought me to an interesting thought. I am not sure how much songwriting Jens did for Sheol, but music on this album bears a large imprint of his solo project Dead Silent Slumber (a very worthwhile listening experience if you ask me).

Abysmal Descent slows things down after three opening tracks. Voice sound effects, piano sounds and child’s crying in the middle of the song create an ominous feeling before triumphant melody brings you up from the bottom of darkness.

Of Gorgons Spawned Through Witchcraft and Force of Pandemonium have more structured, less chaotic, riffs and are more blackened death or even thrash metal, than pure black metal. The latter song has an awesome cascade of riffs leading to a Maidenesque solo. Hellish festivities conclude with a two minute piano and electronic keys outro called The Infernal Ceremony.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sheol will grab a nomination in the Aggressive Brutal Black/Death Metal Album of the Year category (today is Oscar night after all). And rightfully so. It is very deserving. This album is a lesson on how to generate atmosphere, melody and symphonics without softening up. Two minor complaints though. Maybe I listened to it non-stop a little too much, but the album starts to run together somewhat towards the end. The first few tracks leave you gasping for air, but towards the end you seem to know what’s coming over and over again. A bigger problem, in my humble opinion, is rhythm section and, specifically, drums production. Mattias Grahn (aka The Eye) has been pushed into background so much you almost can’t hear his fascinating rolls on I Am Vengeance or pounding blasts on Unleash Hell. The album would have been even more powerful should the drums were emphasized more.

Sheol is an excellent album that shouldn’t be overlooked by all into the more extreme metal genres. Special mentioning goes to Niklas Sundin, of Dark Tranquillity fame, for his cover art (a few more covers like this and I would have to start thinking of him as Salvador Dali of Metal Album Covers).

Killing Songs :
I Am Vengeance, Black God Aftermath, Wrath of the Fallen, Abysmal Descent, Force of Pandemonium
Alex quoted 87 / 100
Danny quoted 93 / 100
Other albums by Naglfar that we have reviewed:
Naglfar - Vittra reviewed by Alex and quoted 90 / 100
Naglfar - Harvest reviewed by Dylan and quoted 90 / 100
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