To delve into the work of Finnish black metal musician and artist Shatraug (Ville Pystynen) is to quickly realize his dedication and enthusiasm began in earnest as a teenager in spearheading Horna in the early 90’s. A great boon of inspiration, thanks to slow-baked capability, came around the millennium as Horna began releasing regular full-lengths and Shatraug concieved a solo project in Sargeist. The earliest demos for this project were a mixed bag in that the pace was reasonably slow ah via Bathory and early Hellenic black metal. The sound was dubiously raw on ‘Nockmaar’ (1999) and ‘Heralding the Breath of Pestilence’ (2001) but ‘Tyranny Returns’ (2001) represented the true potential of Sargeist with adventurous compositions that took from black n’ roll, melodic black metal, and Norwegian gods and compressed them into Finnish black metal orthodoxy. That third demo was enormous in its own right representing a full album’s worth of material yet to be fully developed. To say that Sargeist have been around long enough to have come circling back upon Shatraug‘s earliest conceptions suggests that their ethos might have changed or wildly evolved since, it has not.
‘Unbound’ still represents every aspect Sargeist‘s past while simply arranging the pieces into a gorgeous blackened array fit for the project’s almost entirely restaffed vision since 2016. This will be the biggest change for the established Sargeist horde in the sense that ‘Unbound’ features no past members from the very well-oiled 2002 to 2016 era of the band. In that time the project produced four full-lengths that developed a style of black metal built upon the melodicism of Sorhin, the esoteric howling fury of Mütiilation and the raw cadence of Judas Iscariot. In terms of Finnish black metal it would not be inappropriate to hold Sargeist up on a pedestal for their two decades of offerings but at the same time some trepidation for their re-staffed future is sensible. Ease back into your chair, though, as ‘Unbound’ is perhaps the most glorious possible eruption after years of silence, and of course it landed without hype nor warning.
Past contributions from key Behexen members Horns and Hoath Torog cannot be understated or overlooked as both the structure and voice of Sargeist previous. With this new beginning it is important to again point out that nothing has left the project and in fact they’ve managed to pile even greater variety and inspirationally ‘epic’ tonality into the semi-melodic style most often associated with Sargeist. In forging alliance with four immensely talented and prolific artists, Shatraug‘s vision only intensifies to the point of awe. The incredibly capable duo of Profundus (ex-Sacrilegious Impalement, Uncreation’s Dawn, Urn) and Gruft (Perdition Winds, Lie in Ruins) who make up two thirds of the indomitable Desolate Shrine lend their perfectionist tendencies to amplify the greater curses of Sargeist‘s legacy of sound. Even more vital to this new energy is the pairing of Shatraug and VJS (Nightbringer, Adaestuo) on guitars where the duo seem bent on building above and beyond every possibility of the past. In this sense ‘Unbound’ eclipses ‘Feeding the Crawling Shadows’ (2014) in both dynamic and layered complexity. There is an urgency within these performances that almost seems to explode with ideas that only mildly subvert the expected forms of Sargeist past.
These gospels of Shatraug read like spells to further power the evils of the world towards the destruction of mankind. The lyrics praise above all else the suffocating darkness of the universe and its power to snuff out the light of existence. These are pure incantations of darkness that evolve from nihilistic curses towards a personal embodiment of the all-consuming universal void. Profundus is absolutely a talented vocalist capably of a wide range of extreme metal appropriate inflections and that he didn’t simply imitate Hoath Torog‘s hissing rasp offers some new personality and greater dynamic to these lyrics of dark tides and deleterious anti-spirituality. In some respects this poetic rendering was almost as thrillingly composed as the guitar work that largely drives the album.
Despite my insistence that the complete skeleton of Sargeist is still intact there are some new additions that may perplex the most orthodox obsessed fandom. Namely the title track which surely invokes a sort of Mgla or Uada appropriate rendering of classic melodic black metal more overtly than anything in Sargeist past. The song is perhaps further from my Sorhin comparison and instead closer to modern Taake and the ultra-melodicism will be surprising for some. There is still room for refinement but no doubt ‘Unbound’ will end up impressing more than it detracts from the project’s discography. There is no shortage of audience for a strong balance of melodic black metal and pure second wave Scandinavian black metal guitar work and this is where Sargeist‘s legacy continues unhindered and further enhanced.
‘Unbound’ is both important and imposing as a black metal album in 2018 for its undeniable melodic scent and violently classic expression. It is poignant reminder of the effective thrust and utter nihilistic furor that black metal holds without complication or feigned modernism. Beyond what Sargeist represent in black metal’s torrid landscape of indifference and parody ‘Unbound’ is a vital and energetic guitar album that channels and distills the undying will of man to destroy everything vital for his existence and for that reason I have to highly recommend it. The experience and composition are both undeniably brilliant. For preview “Her Mouth is an Open Grave” and “The Bosom of Wisdom and Madness” will allure with their classic Sargeist invocations but I’d also suggest the pairing of “Unbound” (something new) and “Psychosis Incarnate” (something monumental) to feel both extremes this new formation allows.
Empathy for the lingering dead. 4.25/5.0
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