1349 - Revelations Of The Black Flame
Candlelight Records
Experimental Dark Ambient/Black Metal
9 songs (44:53)
Release year: 2009
1349, Candlelight Records
Reviewed by Goat

Clearly deciding that the initial dark ambience of the title track to their successful 2005 album Hellfire was a direction that needed exploring further, Norwegian supergroup 1349 have taken a massive step away from their usual speedy Blackness and delved deeper into the crawling filth that seems to be an influence. The magazine adverts for Revelations Of The Black Flame describe it as being ‘a blackened journey that encompasses Black Metal, Dark Ambient, Noise, Industrial and the soundtrack to a twisted David Lynch film’, clearly something several miles away from the twisted yet quite traditional Black Metal rantings of Hellfire.

Well, what really surprises about Revelations Of The Black Flame is the extent to which the band have followed through on this promise and have birthed something quite different from their back catalogue, to the extent that many will wonder where the Black Metal is at all. The band, including members of Den Saakaldte and Funeral as well as Satyricon’s Frost and mysterious frontman Ravn, have really gone out-there for album number four, something pretty obvious from the moment first track Invocation opens with manic screams layered upon each other, echoing distant Industrial thumps creating a hellish effect that is barely weakened when the Metal element arises and Thrashy riffs fade in like a Megadeth inverted and turned to Antichristian themes, before Ravn declares ‘let the darkness fall!’ and the music switches to support his croaks, starting to become solid in a strange, neo-Industrial form. Clearly, it’s a million miles from the likes of Sculptor Of FleshCeltic Frost’s most experimental moments in the past have little on this in terms of sheer shock value.

Speaking of Celtic Frost, it’s interesting that the band’s choice of producer here was the one and only Tom G. Warrior. There are several moments where that legend’s influence can be seen, not least the misshapen oddity that is Serpentine Sibilance, which is most like something that Satyricon would have done recently if they took more influence from late Morbid Angel. Don’t expect anything that could easily be named as a single or video track – even the flow of the album is disjointed and difficult to follow, which is where it lost points in my eyes. The ambience of Horns is all well and good, but when placed next to what at first seems to be old-school Black Metal of Maggot Fetus... Teeth Like Thorns, something that could well have come from a less-Rock n’Roll Darkthrone, it just doesn’t fit. Of course, Maggot Fetus... takes as much from the Industrial school as it does anything else, backing riffs dissonant and strange in a subtle way – listening to this attempt to produce old-school Black Metal is like watching a robot attempting to act human, and not necessarily in a good way.

The really frustrating thing about Revelations Of The Black Flame is, apart from the disjointed flow, the way that each element is used. Eerie piano is pretty much a staple of the Experimental Black Metal genre now for any band that doesn’t want to be relegated to Darkthrone clone status, yet Misanthropy, a three-minute track of piano notes with a backing noise, is used dreadfully. As an introduction piece to the six-minute madness of Uncreation it’s passable, but hardly necessary, since Uncreation itself uses piano far more effectively, building ominously at first but growing dull when it becomes apparent that the track loves to meander but is less eager to actually go somewhere. Despite this dullness, the song has a strangely desperate atmosphere, flailing at the lack of direction and turning to madness like something shut up in a small room for far too long.

That may well be the best metaphor for 1349 on this album; having been resolutely underground so far, they’ve been released into the light and panicked, grabbing at whatever they first see in desperation. How else to describe the snail-paced Pink Floyd cover Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, driven by bass and coming over as a particularly odd Rammstein song rather than anything else, a song that incorporates nothing but a bit of double-bass from one of the most talented drummers in the scene? I have no doubt that the band meant well, but when your name up until now has been the place to go to hear Frost drumming the old-school style, it seems rather perverse to relegate him to such a backing role – most of Revelations... could have been performed on a drum machine and it would have been hard to miss him. Is Solitude a Black Sabbath cover done in an ambient style, or simply the sound of a once-violent Black Metal band turning to ambience for its kicks? Who knows? Does it matter? Even if you assume some vast artistic statement behind it all, some alien intelligence staring back at you from the void, the album still lacks that ineffable something. I’ve tried listening in many ways, from dark room and headphones to on a busy street, and there’s little of satisfaction to be found however hard I try.

Maybe the whole point of this album is to frustrate, to tax the listener’s patience as it promises much and delivers little, but (and speaking as someone who can appreciate being toyed with by an album if the end result is worth it) Revelations Of The Black Flame never convinces that the destination is worth the journey. Perhaps that’s the band’s message; the ‘black flame’ is something that will never be found, leaving you gibbering in madness at the side of the path like something from an overly enthusiastic Indiana Jones script – and if I truly believed that to be the case then I would praise this album to the skies, but I suspect that this interpretation is more my shocked mind struggling to find excuses for the band than the genuine reasoning behind it all. Going away and returning to it, listening with an open mind, this latest effort from 1349 falls completely flat, and the more listens I give it the less effective each individual moment is.

Only a madman would state this to be 1349’s sell-out moment, but it is a massive change in style that most will find hard to grasp. Revelations Of The Black Flame is disjointed and frustrating; perhaps with more coherence and a touch more madness it would have succeeded in its aims. As it is, the ambience will be anything but original to those, like myself, who enjoy the various misshapen artefacts that the more atmospheric sections of the underground throw out into the light, and the Metal sections are barely there. Call it an experiment gone wrong if you like; the fact remains that with this album 1349 have shifted their sights from the path they were walking to becoming bogged down in the swamp which lies to the side. The sound of a band suffocating is not necessarily a pleasant one, and I suspect that this excursion into atmospheric realms will not be repeated, however much certain segments of the Metal press declare it to be genius – a genius that many have pilfered before, and to better effect. Alas, the best thing about this release is the rather creepy cover art.

Killing Songs :
Invocation, Serpentine Sibilance, Uncreation
Goat quoted 62 / 100
Other albums by 1349 that we have reviewed:
1349 - Massive Cauldron of Chaos reviewed by Goat and quoted 65 / 100
1349 - Demonoir reviewed by Goat and quoted 88 / 100
1349 - Hellfire reviewed by Alex and quoted 85 / 100
1349 - Beyond the Apocalypse reviewed by Daniel and quoted 83 / 100
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