Will 2020 be the year of the storytellers?
We just covered Porta Nigra and their godly blackened airs early this year. Now, this time we came across Totenheer, literary specialists from Switzerland, it appears. But the theme they chose is one of those tales that I learned to appreciate over time.
Jeremias Gotthelf’s Die Schwarze Spinne (the black spider) practically lends itself to an Extreme Metal epic. Because it is a dark and evil story, seemingly written by the devil himself. One that ominously tells of a deal with Lucifer gone wrong. Complete with kidnappings of babies, pretty young women from foreign parts, of gruesome deaths, and plague-ridden misery. All of that dark villainy painted against the backdrop of medieval debauchery and slave-like drudgery for the Lord of the Realm.
Now here is the question. Will the storyline Totenheer work in this piece confirm the rule that a great theme benefits quality? Let’s find out.
If the story of Die Schwarze Spinne is the skeleton, then the Extreme Metal on display really is the flesh of this howling monster. And true to this allegory, you’ll find all songs tightly written, embedded in a finely layered wall of sound. These guys indeed take no prisoners and will take you on a wild ride.
But first, here’s one to the lyrics. For those who are not privy to the German language, let it be said that Totenheer actually enact the story. Pretty much as it is written and transcribed onto the blackened note sheet.
And truly, Komthur (the vocalist) rasps away with abandon in a very Carach Angren-esque fashion. Yet, you see, where the latter operate with darkly ominous delicacy, Totenheer – by contrast – will just brutally forge ahead without looking left nor right. Red hot as the metal might be. It’s harsh fare for the fans, that’s for sure, but befitting the story at hand.
Verses out the windows, and in comes the raw tale. No nicely tuned limericks, rhyme or reason. It’s the unfiltered goods you get. And straight down your throat, without any chance for desert. Stark evil without moderation, brought to you by the Lightbringer himself. But all that fits the theme beautifully.
That they chose to deliver the lyrics in this same oldish Rammstein-esque fashion made me cringe at first. This 2nd World War era’s use of the German language is often employed to provoke. Specifically, modern Nazi bands often keep this style hostage to drive their point home. Which – again – is a pity, as bands wanting to use it for artistic freedom without politics often take a pounding.
Yet here, I am glad the band did not drown the storyline in abject Black Metal rasps. Instead, the band chose to deliver most of the words in some sort of rough, shouted screams. This lets you understand the story, and is tailor-made for this very specific style of the German language. Not that they completely abandoned rasps and other growls. Depending on the drama at hand, Totenheer give in to their demonic urges, a bit along the lines of Geisterfels some time ago.
And they do that – in part – with Dark Metal that seems to emanate straight from the playbook bands like Moonspell so aptly occupy, usually. But the meat and potatoes of the piece really rely on a tremolo orgy of Black Metal and Post Black Metal.
Die Schwarze Spinne is probably one of the only records where the intro – they call it Einklang – already got on my good side. The snazzy use of the Hammered Dulcimer together with downturned guitar riffs is a tasty one. They put another one of those on top of everything in Ausklang, together with a guitar melody that usually lives on alphorn’s territory, methinks.
As Der Komthur takes off, Totenheer pretty much throw all that Black Metal has to offer at you. I really liked the way the band adapted the tune to the part of the story it is in. So, you’ll get anything blackened, sometimes at funeral speeds and often straight from the mother lode of Thrash Metal. Epic pieces like Die Schwarze Spinne – the title track – will really showcase what this album is all about.
Die Verbannung even shows signs of abject cheesiness at first, yet by about mid-point, Totenheer increase the crunch and save the day with a powerful flourish. Hey, they even throw in a couple of pretty good imitations of Dani Filth’s screams into this devilish fray.
Finally, concocting a theme on Black Metal territory is pretty difficult. A style that suffers from severely tight constraints. If you allow them to happen, of course, that is. Yet, I have seldom seen a theme record done with such prowess in a limited genre.
Of course, they did sometimes include some ambient here and there and used a lyrical style often not of the trve art. But this is understandable for a concept album such as this. And – as mentioned before – the story of Die Schwarze Spinne lends itself to this kind of record beautifully.
Totenheer pulled out all the stops with a quirky piece of Extreme Metal. Together with a storyline that holds its water, this record will please your cold metal heart. Yet, you will need to give Die Schwarze Spinne some serious time. It is an epic piece with meandering and lengthy tracks.
However, the RMR deck crew went back to this particular well many times, and the proverbial jug never broke. There you go, that’s proof of the pudding, ain’t it? A juicy, blackened metal story, roasted by the devil himself and ready for you to devour.
Record Rating: 7/10| Label: Self-Released | Web: Facebook
Release date: 24 January 2020