It does happen, you know. Suddenly the red alert roars off, lights flashing, and all hands on deck. Because something hit the review pipe with full force. An unforeseen record just breached this slow-moving morass and caused some of that sump to wobble dangerously with an unseemly speedy rush to the top of the list by – something. That’s usually illegal over here, but what can you do, right? If urgency takes over, then this can’t be helped. And Denigrate just accomplished that rare feat. Rules broken, egos hurt, and the RMR crew in total discomfiture? It happens, sometimes. But never fear, they’ll get over it.
Over the last years, I wondered from time to time about the fate of Denigrate. A contender from the dire beginnings of the ‘zine that caught our attention with their 2015 piece Hollowpoint. So, a few months back we enquired about possible progress of any new offering that might be on the way. To which the band somewhat drily replied that something extraordinary was in the works. Challenge accepted? ‘Xactly, as always.
Now, Blackguard finally got to our turntables after some 7 years of wait. For other bands, long periods of inaction would spell doom to any career prospect. Yet this band is only at its 3rd studio album, and – hold on to something – they actually started their outfit sometime around 1996.
There’s good and bad in this. It shows that the treadmill theory to publish a record every two years may very well be a commercially-driven untruth pushed by the music industry. Yet again, releasing one single album every decade may not necessarily assist in turning your band into a household name. Especially if your marketing strategy ain’t up to par either. And that’s – sadly – the case here.
Long waiting times also often bring about change. Denigrate morphed from a 5-piece into a foursome. And they lost Micko Hell1) at the mic to trade places with Galzi Kallio (Dead Shape Figure). And that’s a good thing, but more to that later. But change and overly lengthy waits can be a good thing, too. Because once Blackguard roared out of our earphones, the RMR deckhands couldn’t resist pumping up the volume and annoying our dear neighbors.2)
The first track Sonata del Diavlo already positively exudes melancholy and delicious goth-sloth. A concoction that’s more Amorphis than the metal gods should allow. But again, it comes with a swagger and cool Scandinavian groove that we had trouble resisting. The Fear and the Fever indeed makes a mockery out of whatever My Dying Bride threw at us lately. Aureole or – again – the excellent Perfida could boast the integration of Tethra as their co-pilot.
All of that name-calling could of course be seen as a dire sign of some listless production. But it ain’t. Fact of the matter is that the doom and gothic segments of the metal multiverse are already well covered. It is thus difficult for any band to carve out a niche for themselves. Now, Denigrate here did exactly that. Their wares ain’t just doom ‘n’ gloom fueled by black whigs, tight leather clothes, fancy makeup, and fake tattoos. Instead, Blackguard roars in on an equally tight production, stellar arrangement, and a score or two of really good ideas that will hold their promise.
Fancy some examples? Constant melancholy is one thing, but you also get frequent and pretty neat incursions into good ol’ Melodeath. Or take The Dead Saluting which deliciously takes off in slow motion, just to get roasted to a finely blackened state a bit later by some discreet tremolos. In other words, the folks over at Denigrate are masters in subtle variation that thrives on a pretty superb production.
And all of that comes with Kallio‘s measured vocals that are equally impressive as clear voice, belted shouts, or – again – as growls. No contest here. And whilst Denigrate lost a guitarist on the way, the RMR crew here truly fancied Seppo Nummela‘s riffing and solo prowess. And all of that jazz always leaves enough room for the bass to thrive as well.
Ultimately, though, the end result is pretty straightforward. Blackguard sent us the best that Gothic and – for sure – Doom Metal was able to deliver in 2022 so far. I had the album on repeat for days now, and it just won’t gripe, nor will it bore you to death after a dozen listens. In the end, the band found this fine balance between too much doom and abject metallic harshness. Just enough darkness to make you want to howl at the moon – and hit repeat for yet another blackguardly round of tearful sadness. And not many bands were able to do that thus far.