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The Priest of Satan (1994)
 
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The Priest of Satan is the first L.P. from the obscure Swedish Black Metal band, The Black. Recorded at Underground Studio, in April/May 1993, this album is dark, dismal and raw as hell, not straying far from the standard sound of that era. Many people may have heard of this band due to the involvement of Jon Nödtveidt (credited here as Rietas). On this album, he utilizes his trademark vocals, though they seem even more raw and hate-filled than on the Dissection material.

I discovered this album by chance, as I was looking through endless piles of used CDs, one day. Immediately, I took notice of the Satanic aesthetic as the cover art depicted a horned figure with what appear to be torches raised overhead, standing before a cowering mass. Even the logo features pentagrams, an inverted cross, the number 666 and even a dark castle. The back displayed obscure photos of the band members, in a nocturnal wintry landscape. I remembered reading of Jon mentioning this band in an interview, so that was all the motivation that I needed to take this home. Though one complaint can be made, as the drummer saw fit to include three photos of himself on the inside of the insert, all in the same exact pose, yet leaving his band mates out. This is countered by the great line, found in the liner notes: "The Black bestraffar Gud genom Satans eviga kraft."

The album begins with the brief intro, "The Beast of Fire". This helps to create a bleak and obscure aura. Distant, tormented screams are drowned out by demonic howling. There is truly an uneasy feeling about this.

"The Book of Leviathan" fades in from the silence, unleashing fast tremolo riffs and blasting drums, which are kept low enough in the mix to not be a distraction. The vocals are absolutely raw and unrestrained. There is a fleeting moment where things calm down, accentuated by minimal keyboard use, adding an eerie effect. The respite is ephemeral, as the pace suddenly quickens. There is not much room for complaint, here. The production isn't as cold and sharp as The Somberlain, but it is not as flat as the Hellspawn/Unisound job that Opus Nocturne received.

Next is "Towards the Golden Dawn", opening with a nice tremolo riff and later joined by the drums and bass. This continues the fast pace established by the first song, though there is a unique build-up before the song really gets going. Sadly, this song is over very quickly.

"The Sign of the Evil Spirit" is introduced by the sounds of thunder and rain, before a mournful tremolo melody goes straight for your heart. The drum work shows more variation on this song, being a bit more relaxed during certain parts. This truly is one of the most raw and straight-forward Black Metal albums to come out of Sweden, around this time. Mid-way through the song, the pace slows down a bit. There is a brief section with nothing but the cold tremolo riff filling the silence. The riffs are very memorable, despite being so raw and primitive.

The opening riff of "Lady Lilith" creates some sense of tension and this unsettling feeling continues even as the song slows down. In addition to performing the vocals and playing guitar, Jon Nödtveidt is also partly responsible for the short keyboard passages, which are more closely related to Edge of Sanity rather than Emperor. It is definitely not overdone and it suits the music perfectly.

"Black Blood" is another very short song, though it leaves a lasting impression. This kind of puts the listener into a trance, as the vocals are sort of scarce, here.

"The Spirit of Solitude" begins with a slower riff, filled with doom, accompanied by some eerie keyboard use. After a short time, the song speeds up. One may notice that the bass is fairly audible, as in old Mayhem. Jon's vocals sound absolutely desperate and anguished at certain moments in this song. Near the end, there is another moment where a lone tremolo riff fills the terrible silence shortly before the song ends.

Some of these shorter songs leave the listener wanting more, though that is probably much better than songs that overstay their welcome. "After My Prayers" begins in kind of a mid-paced way. After a little while, you hear the sounds of wolves howling at the full moon, as it is prominent in the night sky far above. The tremolo melodies found here are brilliant and it become surprising that more did not come of this band, all those years ago. There are a lot of tempo changes and the arrangement displays deep roots in early Black Metal. Near the end of the song, the pace slows down again and the vocals take on a very morbid tone.

"The Goat of Mendes" starts off with very old school doom riffs, accompanied by a hellish scream. There is a very nocturnal quality about the guitar melodies. There is even an eerie solo thrown in, joined by Jon's haunting whispers.

One of the darkest works on the album, "The Priest of Satan" is possessed with a dark atmosphere of impending doom. This truly features some of the best riffs of the whole album. There is a building sense of dread as cold tremolo riffs stab and slash your skin like knives of ice. Halfway through, the song slows down and the freezing cold open-arpeggio riffs swirl around you like winds of sorrow. The keyboard use, along with the morbid whispers, really adds to this bleak feeling. With this song, alone, The Priest of Satan instantly earns the status of 'forgotten/lost classic'. This song is epic in its evil and macabre aura. It is almost enough to forever take the breath from your lungs and to leave you lying dead on the frozen ground.

Following this masterpiece is the almost serene song, "The Black Opal Eye". This begins with keyboards and acoustic guitar, to establish an ephemeral peace that is crushed into the soil as the heavy Black Sabbath-inspired riffs emerge from the darkness. This is followed by a cold tremolo riff that is soon joined by fast drums and the possessed vocals of Rietas. The keyboard part, as the song is fading out, sounds like something in a 70s horror movie.

This great album concludes with "Whirlwinds Through the Land of Ice". Appropriately enough, the song begins with the sounds of cold winds blowing. This is the longest song on the album, and it certainly feels epic. The riffs freeze your skin as the song moves at a slower pace than most found on this album. After some time, things speed up. The songwriting and arrangements really seem to have some roots in traditional metal. This is constructed very well. This song conveys the feeling that you are nearing the end of a mystical journey. There are some moments of near-optimism, though they are completely destroyed by the black clouds of hate. Melancholic open-arpeggios are accompanied by a truly demonic voice, calling out from the darkness. This is followed by some of the coldest tremolo riffs heard on the album. The journey is not over. This is not the end, or the beginning of the end. Yet the end of the beginning. The cold winds return to claim your soul for the The Black...

This is a lost classic of Swedish Black Metal. This is much rawer than Dissection, though one would assume that any fan of that band should find much to appreciate here. If you ever encounter this rare album, do not hesitate to pick it up.
 
(18 Oct. 2006)

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