Naglfar – Cerecloth


Sweden’s Naglfar are an intriguing proposition. With only their seventh album in twenty-five years, the Black Metal trio are back with another dose of darkness and are as perplexing as ever.

Cerecloth has many nuances but few highlights on first listen. The usual fast tremolo-picking and gargled vocals compete in a maelstrom of distortion and blast beats for your attention, sometimes connecting, sometimes passing over your head. Lead vocalist, Kristoffer Olivius, is a singing teacher’s nightmare with his throat passages often sounding as dry as a demon with flu. Fans of Marduk are in for a treat, but those who tire at the rubber-plated thud of kickdrums drowning out the snare will also roll their eyes. Yep, there are too many instances of drums that sound as inspiring as a tumble dryer on low pressure.

Yet there’s something about this record that demands attention. ‘Like Poison for the Soul’ has a surprise Post-Punk vibe to the bass and drums at the beginning with some unique guitar octaves and a wonderful raw punch. You can hear the plectrum scraping the strings for each ringing note and wince at the dry rasp of a vocal delivery that sounds like a man in need of a Czech pilsner after six hours of dehydration. This is extreme music at its best. Likewise, ‘Cry of the Serafim’ steps out of the Black Metal comfort zone and into a Post-Metal cocoon of distorted arpeggio licks and palm-muted syncopation. It’s easily one of the standout tracks on the album along with ‘Necronaut,’ which strips the sound down to a My Dying Bride serenade of guitar harmonies and atmospheric keyboards. 

You’ve probably guessed the prejudices of this reviewer by now and you’d be correct. The problem with this album is the wishy-washy Black Metal that permeates throughout the record. ‘Vortex of Negativity’ and ‘The Dagger in Creation’ are as innocuous as an introverted child and spoil the phasing of the album. This type of droning nothingness reminds you all too well that Black Metal may now be the most boring and least heavy genre in extreme music. This would have been unthinkable two decades ago, yet too much of it now sounds stale and formulaic. The opening two tracks will tantalise if you like your atmospheric malevolence drowned in washing machine reverberations. If this is not your thing, Naglfar tease you with occasional guitar sweeps and sporadic use of a French horn throughout the album. It is this type of hint towards more experimental pastures that remains unrealised and frustrates those of us looking for something beyond the usual Black Metal tropes. 

Naglfar are a sophisticated band with some good ideas, but they saunter too often on this effort when they should be scintillating. A more polarising piece of art is unthinkable for the rest of this year, yet somehow it retains an appeal for repeat listening. Maybe Cerecloth will be more comprehensible with time, but at the moment it recedes into the background with little impression.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 08/05/2020

Record Label: Century Media

Standout tracks: Like Poison for the Soul, Cry of the Serafin, Necronaut

Suggested Further Listening: Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant (1997), Bathory – Under The Sign Of The Black Mark (1988), Watain – Sworn to the Dark (2007)