By 1993, the Norwegian black metal scene was engaged in an all-out, lo-fi war with mainstream death metal and the society that condoned it. Dissection, forming in Sweden, didn't have much choice but to fraternize with death metal's royalty (they shared a practice space with At the Gates). Like many of the second wave's constituents, Dissection drew deeply from Bathory's legacy. Unlike their peers, however, Dissection looked beyond the atonal seethings of Under The Sign of the Black Mark, taking direction from Quorthon's later, more epic leanings. On their debut album, Dissection would channel the ineffable Blood, Fire, Death, transcending its glory with malignant melody, preternatural songwriting skill and some of the finest riffs ever penned. The Somberlain is a life-altering invocation of rage.
While steeped in the sinister miasma of black metal's ethos, Dissection discarded less of metal's traditional tropes than their contemporaries. Classical constructs guide the album’s course and teeming thrash provides its foundation. Led by the inimitable Jon Nödtveidt, Dissection composed titanic riffs of piercing perfection. Prone to outbursts of articulate, tremolo picked rampage, The Somberlain is exploding with addictive, memorable hooks. Singular, unforgettable melodies overlay sinuous, quick-draw dynamics. Dual harmonies are perfectly executed in rapid-fire waves. Steeped in Gotherburg’s burgeoning death metal scene, Dissection’s bold melodic character feels like an organic, osmotic development.
The album’s title track is one of metal’s greatest moments. Soaring, entwined leads convey a longing for peace and freedom from pain and suffering. Even as the song delivers transformative, metal-thrashing transcendence, we are reminded that the answer does not lie in the Promised Land. “I have found what I wanted, tranquility. I'll thrive on evil, eternally.” Jon Nödtveidt 's harrowing screams tell tales of infernal annihilation, resting firmly in black metal's Satanic milieu without over-explicit orthodoxy (this would come later in his career). The Somberlain is a call to arms for those who have crossed the threshold of darkness. “We’re the march of profanity. The darkest breed, again we’ll rise forth against the flocks of the weak.”
The Somberlain sports a concise, ripping production that speaks of tonal warmth; this is no stripped down, icy affair. To my ears, the album sounds like a Ride the Lightning to the Norwegian scene’s Kill ‘Em All . It’s no surprise that one of black metal’s best albums is also incredibly accessible; I was a Dissection fan years before black metal laid claim to my soul. The Somberlain has aged incredibly well, retaining every ounce of its malevolent, timeless perfection. Life ends, good riffs live forever. Revel in the cold winds of nowhere.