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Dødheimsgard: A Umbra Omega

Norway's avant-BM pioneers take a left turn

Five albums in 20 years might not sound like an impressive contribution to black metal’s complex legacy, but then few bands have dared to drag the genre so purposefully far away from its raw and aggressive comfort zone.

Dødheimsgard effectively rewrote the rulebook in 1999 when the industrial explorations of 666 International almost singlehandedly rescued the Norwegian scene from a downward spiral of self-congratulatory repetition. They did it again with the more streamlined but no less startling Supervillain Outcast in 2007./o:p

Eight years on, these inveterate oddballs have once again ditched virtually everything they have been known for. A Umbra Omega still exhibits a profound grasp of extremity’s allure, of course, and blastbeats and frenzied, dissonant riffs are here in plentiful supply, but rather than adopting a traditional songwriting approach and messing around within those restrictions, Dødheimsgard have let their imaginations run riot, resulting in five remorselessly perverse epics (plus intro) that are both wildly cinematic and palpably contemptuous of caution.

Aphelion Void sets the scene perfectly; 15 minutes of grotesque surprises, post-punk prickliness and avant-garde detours, it’s both as elegant and enchanting as latter-day Opeth and yet as deliciously warped as Scott Walker’s darkest moments.

God Protocol Axiom is similarly fearless in its scattershot execution, as bursts of taut metallic venom are absorbed by a steadily encroaching fog of blasphemous surrealism, replete with clattered pianos, and the madness continues through The Unlocking’s twin-brained shitstorm of hyperspeed terror and lugubrious hell-jazz and Architect Of Darkness’s sustained barrage of screeching brutality and neo-classical pomp

But it’s the closing Blue Moon Duel that seals this dastardly deal. Its synapse-flicking dynamics and mid-section plunge into nightmarish prog abandon reaffirm this band’s utter disregard for convention, not to mention their unerring knack for discovering new ways to blow minds in the name of creative malice.

And while it seems unlikely that A Umbra Omega will upset the applecart to quite the same degree as its predecessors, its depth and diversity casually and intuitively raises the blackened bar another few notches./o:p