I’m going to just come right out with it – I’ve never really seen the appeal of Dødheimsgard (I refuse to call them DHG – that’s non-negotiable). Their third album 666 International created a considerable wave in the late 90’s Black Metal scene, heralding a cyber-future that had the fans wiping off their panda-paint and buying glowsticks and leather trench-coats, but neither it, nor its equally feted follow-up Supervillain Outcast (both Moonfog), really clicked for me. The “progression” seemed too forced, the electronic elements awkwardly realised and the whole thing just a little too redolent of the Emperor’s new clothes.
I point this out simply because I’m about to lose my shit over A Umbra Omega (Peaceville), and I want to make it clear that I’m not just buying into the general consensus here – with this one, they’ve finally caught my attention.
Despite opening with the glitchy, fragmented electronics of ‘The Love Divine’, one of the first things that becomes apparent about A Umbra Omega is that the “cyber” elements of the last two albums have been dialled down noticeably, replaced with a much broader selection of influences. The songs move jaggedly but with surprising fluidity through Jazz breaks, modern classical music, more restrained electronics and some good, old-fashioned box-of-angry-wasps Scandinavian Black Metal.
It will doubtless anger some fans to say this, but there’s something almost backwards-looking or quaint about A Umbra Omega’s approach to progression. The face of “avant-garde” Black Metal in 2015 is very different to what it was in 1996, and Dødheimsgard’s approach still owes more to the carnivalesque playfulness of Arcturus or goth-tinged drug babble of Ved Buens Ende than DeathSpell Omega or Blut Aus Nord’s chaotic black-hole worship (this review brought to you by hyperbole.com). This is by no means a criticism – indeed, Dødheimsgard remind us of the one thing that the newer style of “experimental” Black Metal bands often forget to include in their time-shifting trans-dimensional horror; character. Despite how wacky things get here, there’s a constant sense of personality, wit and style that pervades each track on A Umbra Omega, drawing together what could otherwise be disparate musical elements into a genuinely effective whole.
As I observed in my recent review of the new <code> album, being weird is ultimately a fool’s quest – each year it gets harder and yields diminishing rewards. Perhaps that’s where Dødheimsgard lost me on previous releases – being experimental and breaking new ground seemed to be the primary objective – but on A Umbra Omega they sound like a band who’ve come to terms with their own weirdness and focussed on the task of writing a really excellent set of songs around it, rather than showing off how wacky they are. A genuine master-class in why Black Metal can still be interesting without having to choose between retro-traditionalism or forced experimentation.