HAR SHATAN – Manum Inicere Alicui (2022)REVIEW

Each hand upon the godhede, tearing loose ancient knowledge. — Arcane resonances, emotionally sparked revelations, depressive emanations from within all gild the uncorrupted vision of western Germany-based black metal act Har Shatan on thier return to the public ear after over a decade of silence. Though we cannot necessarily look back upon the immediate post-millennium and name the work of the artist as prolific or legendary beyond limited releases within exclusive spheres, a release of the quality and fortitude of ‘Manum Inicere Alicui‘ should turn heads in the know toward its raw-droning, authentic sound.

German musician Zepar formed Har Shatan in 2002 clearly inspired by the late 90’s German reaction to Scandinavian black metal tenets while those values were still rooted in a deranged heavy metal affront. We can witness this on his first demo tape (‘Sounds to the Key of Death‘, 2003) an important marker in observation of the reputation of the project as it grew incrementally thanks to splits with similarly-minded Wolfsschrei (see: ‘Devastating Blow / Through the Eyes of the Night‘, 2005) and Front Beast in the mid-2000’s. While we could find shades of the classics in all of the artist’s work through their excellent 2006 demo ‘Ancient Evil‘ the primitivity of earlier releases was only just beginning to recede for the sake of more expressive work. Unlike peers in the German scenery at the time there was never a full brush with the depressive black metal of the era (see: Sterbend) but the listless beat machine kicks and gravel dragged rawness of the guitar tone meant Har Shatan still gets lumped into certain adjacency in hindsight, readable as an act of a certain era. The somewhat laid back nature of several pieces found on their debut full-length ‘His Legacy‘ (2009) serves a bit of a culprit, easing off the edge of the prior demo, and as a result nowadays few could argue that debut LP had matured into an absolute classic, if they’d any access to it at all.

With thirteen years separating ‘Manum Inicere Alicui‘ from its predecessor and only some bite-sized preservation of previous works available to the average internet dolt today the first and most immediate surety which arrives within its experience is that Har Shatan don’t appear to have strayed from their original path, at all. In fact in some ways this second full-length reflects a cold reversion to the grisly rattle of their demo days more than reflects the slick haunt found on their debut LP, particularly the rattling distortion-buzzed guitar tone. The only sensical thing to do in recognition of this is to reduce this core sensation to that of earlier works of Burzum and Darkthrone, specifically those writ for two guitars at a mid-pace, and consider this the impetus for most everything Har Shatan does. The vocal performances are arguably the one element set outside of time, or rather not directly placeable in the early 2000’s German black metal nightscape, though they bear a tinge of overshot ribbon-esque mic blare in their initially very loud and scathing cadence. This atmospheric yet confrontational sound is additionally braced by simple keyboard/synth modulation and a distant, sparse drum kit with large splashes. The effect is that of a superior home recording using equipment which has likely been dusted off and only slightly updated since 2009.

The first third of the album, “Intro/Aurora” b/w “Fulgens et Sole Clarior”, builds fealty with the elite black metal ear by way of these vocal performances and the slow-brooding gloom of the guitar work first and foremost, colliding in an unreal way just short of ear-bleeding accost which is authentic enough as a true black-and-white render of rawest, unholiest, doomed mindset. “Fulgens et Sole Clarior” is the first major point of early second wave influenced stride, a heavy metal song at its core, which manifests a complete gutting of the ‘self’ with personal philosophy detailed. This is a key piece to place up front since it speaks righteously to the artist’s point of view in a few different ways, most importantly generating a classic sound which has been personalized and void of, well, practically any observable inspiration beyond 1996. This compliments the cold, miserable, curse of death found on “Aurora” to such a degree that I’d had trouble seeing past the ~15 minute introduction both songs manifest in succession.

Beyond the passage which “Secret” provides we find some charming inconsistencies in the anti-sound design of ‘Manum Inicere Alicui‘ with the harshest, most truly brain scrambling noise of “Loyalty Until Death” serving a distraction away from a contiguous mood, a necessary shift for this grouping of songs to undertake. “Blood of Creation” is ultimately the piece to salve the burning itch created by the devolving spiritus of the running order, a steep into the swaying waters of ‘Under a Funeral Moon‘ which develops its second act on “Lichtträger Lucifers” beyond that point. If you can pardon the approximation of sound and modus on my part, this is arguably where we begin to see what post-millennium acts did with their own iteration of the eternal return to 1992. Expanding the depth of the ringing dread produced and essentially “over-acting” the despair available to the moment ensures that Har Shatan‘s work is their own despite the crackling, well-trodden territory these simple yet effective compositions endure with. Though I found “Secret” vital to the transition between first and second acts the ~5 minute loft of instrumental closer “Another Dimension” added nothing to the experience and felt like a wad of filler when the album was left on repeat. There is nonetheless a strange, uneven journey taken as this record rolls on through and this leaves some of the absurdism of the feat held at bay, and speaks to some earnest and authentic qualities to be had.

For the true black metal classicist a record like ‘Manum Inicere Alicui‘ speaks to the long-standing, actual history of raw underground black metal and its vast composition of classics-touched outliers. The means of the work matches the simplicity of the forms engaged beautifully, and the moments where the performer connects with the work in truth are preserved as idiosyncratic gestures rather than a performative ones — this has always been where the gut-reactive violence of black metal persists undying. Though the composition of the full listen is unsophisticated beyond its uncluttered, corrupted sound design this did not deter me from being naturally drawn to the pitch black grime available, wherein I’d especially loved the slower pieces. I’d only ask that impromptu lead guitars like those found on “Loyalty Until Death” are rethought on future work, since that sort of punkish fumbling ultimately marred one of the more key moments of the greater induction available. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Manum Inicere Alicui
LABEL(S):The Sinister Flame
RELEASE DATE:December 31st, 2022

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