ONDSKAPT – Grimoire Ordo Devus (2020)REVIEW

The pale glowing torsion of flesh cringing away from freshly lit pyre — There is a lurking evil here, scanning its deliberate predatory gaze in shadows so old they’ve little more than dust and dead beetle casings to scuff across. The negative space which the corners of our eyes elude, the distended and coldest edges of every abode, the realms of spiders, rats and chiseling creatures hide the scurrying feet of summoned shades and daimonian scouts in opportune placement should the chance vulnerability of the pious arise. We dream up these acts of blackest midnight violence via conscious and practiced opposition, a distillation of defiance so freely pulling from the apeiron that the subconscious crafts them as very real avatars of disdain. Absolute scorn, the embodiment of evil is in fact a dreamlike state, hallucinations volley’d between ruthless consciousness and steeled subconscious action. Heresy and loudest horrifying evil no longer lurks and disturbs the dream states of Stockholm, Sweden-borne black metal stalwarts Ondskapt as their fourth full-length album ‘Grimoire Ordo Devus‘ melts away the membrane tempering their infamously atmospheric evil, pouring forth a long-awaited maelstrom of patent classicism they’ve become known for.

So, you’ve been pretending to understand the connection between “orthodox black metal” bands for years and it must be all the more confusing that some of the key bands from this ideology have crafted some of the most influential avant-garde black metal of the last couple decades… What is it? Today we picture it as a sub-genre ideology more than a religious orthodox Satanic movement but these things were originally intertwined by design. There is no stylistic requirement that links the major folks aligned, each is a singularity, in fact many were aligned by functional adhesion alone. We can at least consider those who’d taken this perceived movement seriously and made sure they did not turn out bland imitations of peers. I have a very loose set of “go to” acts who were notable in this period, specifically those of the enduring Swedish mindset in this context, wherein we find the roots of Nefandus, Mortuus, Ofermod, Funeral Mist and perhaps Octinomos and Watain as some of the loudest characters with considerable musical capability, gusto enough to pull off grand blazing works of black metal that hold up today as exemplar. Of course there are countless other acts I find interesting or even more relevant here, such as Armagedda, but as we approach Ondskapt this list of names highlights just how differently these somewhat younger folks would approach the classic Swedish black metal ultimatum… Slowly.

Perhaps in the absolute right tradition of black metal history this deliberate, ringing and notably atmospheric Swedish black metal project was spearheaded circa 2000 by a set of Stockholm area fellowes who were basically just out of high school (or not far past) at the time. Though they were never as celebrated as some of their populist peers Ondskapt would prove immediately impressive thanks to their quick mastery of certain black metal guitar techniques and in creation of an impeccable moodiness that is distinctly ritualistic and well, still remains their key mark upon the early-to-mid 2000’s. The primary actor, or the lasting catalyst of the past two decades is sole founding member Acerbus (ex-IXXI) who would pair well with drummer/guitarist Nabemih and guitarist Fredric Gråby (before his stint in Shining.) The gears were always turning, albums came fast, and the line-up would shift with each new release. The first EP (‘Slave Under His Immortal Will‘, 2001) from Ondskapt was already notably professional in render and performance where slower open-chorded and ringing guitar arrangements would invoke the early second wave. Considering folks lump this band with the most ripping era of Marduk and Watain it should be a surprise to find Ondskapt would never rely on sheer speed or brutality to invoke their evil and they’d always been unique for it. The hope is that this subverts this idea that all Swedish black metal from this time period aligned rhythmically with Dark Funeral and ‘Panzer Division Marduk’. Their fantastic debut album (‘Draco Sit Mihi Dux‘, 2003) brings some real professional polish to both the render and the performances within, an impressive follow up to the already surrealistic atmospheric of the EP. From my point of view Ondskapt‘s debut is an underrated record and probably my favorite from the bands earlier boon of activity in the first half of that decade. Most folks know them via their notable third album (‘Dödens Evangelium‘, 2005), which was probably the first The Ajna Offensive release I’d bought at that point in time. I’ve a lot of nostalgia for this time period and the first two albums from Ondskapt but I have to admit I’ve missed everything else since. ‘Dödens Evangelium’ was either a natural peak, a practical cooling point, or creative goal reached and tucked away as it would take five years for the next album to surface.

Much of what I’d thought of ‘Arisen From The Ashes‘ back in 2010 still applies here a decade later, though they are assuredly different experiences. For that particular record Simon Wizén of the oft overlooked Valkyrja was on board as guitarist and co-writer and I didn’t find the pairing (in terms of guitar arrangements) as effective as the prior two albums where Gråby and Nebemih traded roles wherever needed. I realize the issue here is discounting Acerbus‘ role unfairly but we can naturally consider him the foil and the backbone of the majority share of Ondskapt‘s triumphs, if only by virtue of maintenance. Though ten years divides the two records each presents an expected level of fluidity, masterfully engineered capture/renderings, and the intent do once again communicate the intended manifestation of evil yet they express as florid contemplation, a different sort of death worship. In the case of ‘Grimoire Ordo Devus’ we are presented with a succinct reveal of a nourished exploration of dream states taken to yield the spiritual essence of evil. A lovely poetic setting to suggest yet you’ll find with total immersion there is a restful state achieved; If it isn’t a dream achieved in transit of thrilling classic Swedish black metal ideals then it is surely an sinister entrancement. As esoteric as that might sound when trying to separate the previous album in mind from this new one it’d not have been too thrilling on my part to lead with “this J. Megiddo (In Aeternum, Marduk, ex-Degial) guitarist fuckin’ rips!” uh, depending who you are but it is true. At the very least we’ve gotten a slightly more melodic whip applied to the lunging disorder of ‘Dödens Evangelium’ on songs like “Ascension” and “Possession” but this is not an album of singular or, undisturbed focus and instead I’d posit this record arrives as one of the most important arguments for Ondskapt to date; After a decade there are stakes here, perhaps nothing dire for folks who’d naturally ignore this type of black metal, but stakes that require ‘Grimoire Ordo Devus’ to be perfected, immaculate, and representative of two decades of hammering away at this craft and having something to show for it.

Acerbus‘ vocals have notably broadened in scope beyond his usual rasping-but-clear growls of insanity and here the constant threat of vulgar wailing tongues circling in is welcomed from every angle. Drummer Daemonum Subeunt (Sterbhaus) delivers flawlessly as a major atmospheric component of each song, particularly filling the room with flourish and crashing blasts on opener “Semita Sinistram”. This song really had to feel like a grand return for the band and it does set the bar fairly high for a nuanced but decisively traditional approach to this realm of black metal. So, here is where I’ll err towards practicality and sever my thoughts on specific songs a bit. I will assume the intention here is to either outdo previous Ondskapt records or, not release a new record at all and in this sense they have achieved perhaps the finest sounding and most well-rounded full listen in the band’s meaningfully achieved discography. This relates directly to the intended voice and expression of the project which again, could be seen as iterative of their previous album in some context. This is not a slight upon the experience, in fact that consistency is expected and appreciated. Yes, it sounds like an updated vision of Ondskapt‘s heyday and ‘Grimoire Ordo Devus’ is a solid introduction to a band with a pretty solid legacy thus far but it isn’t at all intending some feigned progression beyond pure Swedish black metal. The project has always been uniquely atmospheric without inspiring any sort of listlessness and this holds up this long-awaited fourth time around. When divorcing myself from nostalgia and past illumination from this band specifically, it is a beautifully crafted and exciting black metal record that doesn’t have any real hooks for the outsider to latch onto. Plenty of solid riffs spill from each song yet I found myself listening 5-6 times in a row only to sit in silence afterwards and not have pulled a single lyric or riff that’d moved me, inspired me to seizure in my chair as new neurons formed. This is not uncommon, and I mean that in every sense, where I want to be gripped by a band I respect yet the claws may never break skin. A thrill towards a reasonably high plateau is nothing to scoff at and Ondskapt have done an incredibly professional job envenoming these new pieces. A moderately high recommendation, with room to grow over time.

Moderately high recommendation (74/100)

Rating: 7 out of 10.
TITLE:Grimoire Ordo Devus
LABEL(S):Osmose Productions
RELEASE DATE:November 27th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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