In terms of meaningfully remembered output the Danish underground had an expected number of death metal obscurities in the late 80’s but very little in the way of black metal beyond persistent activity from the freaks in Samhain/DeusExult. Of the handful of Danish black metal acts to hit solid ground in the early 90’s Denial of God have been by far the most consistent, and persistent, with their craft since. Over the course of nearly thirty years most bands would appear to progress to a point of exhausting, predictably reaching a peak level of performance and then losing sight of their goal between business, trend, and the tired realm of progressive music; In the case of Azter and Ustumallagam they’ve not muddled up their sight with any such nonsense and instead mutated within traditional forms and themes they’d create themselves when inspired. With the bestial black/death and doomed demos from the early 90’s long left in the past these last thirteen years of Denial of God have focused on letting in deeper waves of classic heavy metal melodicism while fully embracing their application to (what I’d consider) the attack of early second wave black metal leaning towards melodic variations. Three masterful full-lengths have now followed, each roughly six years apart; The third, ‘The Hallow Mass’, delivers a weighty follow-up to ‘Death and the Beyond’ (2012) that stretches even deeper into epic heavy metal influences.
Some enduring admiration for Mercyful Fate and Death SS is clear inspiration for much of Denial of God‘s work but this album pushes that idea further towards a sound that feels like new ground for the project. An appreciation for evil/occult heavy rock is ingrained into the Danish trio’s mixture of heavy metal and (what I’d consider) melodic black metal but there are no truly effective comparisons to make along the way. Master’s Hammer and Root have taken a few detours along the way that’ve come close but with far more mixed results. The closest and most reasonable point of reference is Deceased, for the dramatic tone, melodic leads, and extended songs. The fourteen minute opener “Hallowmass” stuns and daunts as if it were a complete theme for an occult horror/giallo film and it’d sent me looking through the archives to see if I’d been the first to hear Denial of God as ‘blackened’ epic heavy metal. Building off of the ambitions of ‘Death and the Beyond’ a mid-to-slow pace is persistent for the majority of the full hour of ‘The Hallow Mass’ but there are some great bursts of speed along the way, it isn’t at all a ‘brutal’ black metal feat or a ‘riff’ album as much as past efforts have been; This will likely be where folks not attuned to atmosphere might feel lost within extended narrative driven songs.
Narrative is a big keyword here as I’ve always appreciated that Denial of God approach lyrics not only for the sake of imagery but with similarly dramatic performance in mind. Hell, there are pretty standard rock records that I need a lyric sheet for but I’ve always found Ustumallagam (The Rite) easy to follow and this helps to justify the pretense of these melancholic 9-10 minute horror-theme metal songs. Are the stories/vignettes within worthy of the past? Yes, Denial of God continue to be consistent and inspired within every aspect of their craft. Nonetheless ‘The Hallow Mass’ has a few characteristic tics that the general metal fan might not warm up to easily. Rhythm guitars take a backseat to the lead guitar and vocals dual role as central melodic drivers and this makes for an appropriately ‘gothic’ dreariness (see: “The Transylvanian Dream”) that would be pure black magic if the songwriting pulled out a few early Samael moments along the way. I’m sure it was intentionally designed and didn’t expect a chunking black/death record, I’d wanted the focus to shift away from the lead guitar/vocal trade-off more often. “Hour of the Worm” gives me most of what I needed, though.
I’d been enthused to approach a new Denial of God album after reviewing their preview EP ‘The Shapeless Mass’ mid-summer but I’d initially felt the choice of that particular song was a compromise between revealing a fifth of the album without touching upon both the heaviest and the most peculiar elements of it. It just feels somewhat more ‘normal’ than the rest of the tracklist. “Undead Hunger”, “The Lake in the Woods” and “The Transylvanian Dream” each showcase some experimental or bold act within an epic heavy metal format where the theme is horror delivered with a shadowy melancholy, this is the heart of the full listens appeal. I found the upfront placement of “The Hallowmas” daunting and a bit of a risk to the flow of the tracklist, it could rightfully be its own satisfying 7″. As a result, the listening experience came in natural waves of exposure where I’d often have to split the full listen into halves to appreciate it. This is my own idiosyncratic way of comprehending what I’ve listened to before my brain shits it out but, consider a lunch break in between Side B and Side C. I found the first three tracks eventually lost their impact after several listens whereas I’d fallen for the other four in the process. It’d been a lop-sided process of discovery but I’d found the full listen was a staircase upward, where each song resonated more than the last one after another and though I didn’t entirely ‘get’ it at first I can give moderately high recommendation of this latest Denial of God album. For preview purposes I’d suggest that I haven’t stopped recommending “The Transylvanian Dream”, “Hallowmass” and “Hour of the Worm” since first hearing them.
Among the dead and countless bones. 3.75/5.0
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