There are many people in and around black metal who will tell you that the infamous second wave died off barely a year or two into its torrid existence, consumed by its own self-parody and destroyed by exposure to the world at large. They will go on to tell you that the scene's progenitors soon warped and molded their sound beyond its original scope, in the process extinguishing that mystical black flame altogether. Like any such close-minded view, this argument is seriously flawed.
One of the darkest and most strident of these flaws is personified by one man. Ørjan Stedjeberg, aka Hoest, crawled from the mountains of Bergen, Norway as a teenager back in 1993, putting his roots firmly in the fiery, bloody ground zero of Norsk svartmetal. With a stage-name that translates to 'autumn,' and a band called Taake, the old Norse translation of the word 'fog,' the intent was always clear. Here we are some twenty-one years later, and after a legion of splits, EP's, compilations, and five monumental albums, Taake returns with their sixth full-length, entitled Stridens Hus. Meaning 'contention house,' the new album will be defecating on all doubters come the 10th of February, 2015 via Candlelight Records, smack in the middle of one of the dreariest, winter-weary months of the year.
Now, one unfamiliar with Taake may be thinking that its easy to keep an elder sound-scape intact through the years; simply wash, repeat, release, etc. With Taake, Hoest has displayed a marvelous ability to innovate within the ostensibly rigid confines of kvlt black metal. Just check out the bluegrass guitars in the song 'Myr' off 2011's Noregs Vaapen. By now, fans know what to expect, and that is the assurance that Taake continually manages to walk the fine line between creative expansion and maintenance of the rough, raw edge of Norwegian black metal. This is something Hoest absolutely continues on Stridens Hus, with that touch of maniacal but oh-so-musical genius. By keeping a low public profile, he has avoided the illusion of commercialism and maintained a degree of mystical otherness essential to the true spirit of black metal. (One of the times Hoest did make tabloid headlines, he got himself in a heap of trouble in Germany. F**king up in either Germany or Poland has become almost a rite of passage among black metal's elite).
Stridens Hus kicks off with a stellar guitar lead intro on 'Gamle Norig,' the opening song, which resolves itself into a mid paced anthem of black metal superiority. The lyrics are from an old Norwegian poem written by Ivar Aasen. A change in guitar tones and tempo a little over halfway through begins to showcase the phenomenal ear for dynamics that can be found in the music of Taake. By the climactic end of just under six minutes, the song is as much thrash as it is black metal. Spilling right into the sinister 'Orm,' Norwegian for worms, we are treated to a rock and roll structured song with Hoest's echoing voice coming to us from across foggy moors beneath the forested foothills of a Bergen mountain. Taake gives the impression they are jamming out on the song, causing a steady head nod as opposed to the urge to slaughter you some Christians. The guitar soloing about three minutes in manages to somehow be eerie and reminiscent of Alice In Chains at the same time. Hoest certainly keeps it interesting all the way through. There is even some clean wordless bellowing in the mix, calling to mind the atmospheric moments of vintage Arcturus, Ulver, and Windir. This is a uniquely Norwegian trope and never loses its efficacy. One can see winter moonlight limning the fjords, and feel the pagan longing trapped within all Norse black metal, aching to come roaring out. Magical stuff.
'Det fins En Prins,' or 'There is A Prince,' features a host of atmospheres and tempo changes. It is another prideful, overtly Taake song, featuring very cool guitar effects towards the end. It cannot be overstated what a brilliantly skilled musician Ørjan Stredeberg is. 'Stank,' which means stench (nice to see how similar English and Norwegian can be) is a more rigidly structured up-tempo piece. The blast beats underpin a very classical sounding configuration of riffs for about 1:45 before the pace takes on a Satyricon-like middle tempo. Hypnotic and effective, halfway through the album the quality is staying reliably stratospheric. In typical Taake fashion, we are treated to a more punk mid section during this song, featuring some clean shouts and then some very out-of-left-field guitar work which Hoest blends into the template of the song beautifully. The whole thing conflates into one of the best songs on the album. 'En Sang til Sand om Ildebrann' continues the arc of excellence in a more methodical, slower, yet still atmospheric density that provides a respite before diving into the blasting 'Kongsgaard bestaar.' Hoest puts on a rasping, icy show of black metal vocals in this one. The listener will bang his or her head until the well-placed creepy stand-alone guitar breakdowns, one of which features a horror movie type sound effect. The album wraps up with 'Vinger,' or wings, a very progressive heavy metal song with some cool bass guitar work. Hoest spits venom over the battery before the brilliant guitar/bass guitar interplay kicks back in. Some more cool sound effects and a well-placed tempo break show once more, unequivocally, that Taake is one of the darkest lights in the labyrinth that is black metal circa 2015.
We are barely a month into the new year, and with Stridens Hus, Taake has more than likely reserved themselves a spot in many a 2015 year end best-of list. Let no man tell you that old school Norwegian black metal is dead, because as long as Taake is in business, the old wretched corpse shambles on.