Three years after the exceptionally well-written album “First War Of The World” (see my review here), the German Black/Folk/Power Metal band returns with a new album: “The Final Journey”. This is their fifth full-length since the band’s founding in 1992, at a time when they were a Black Metal band. It’s only with the release of the debut album, “Sceptre Of Black Knowledge” (1998) that the Folk influence became more apparent. This led, over the years, to gigs with CRUACHAN, TÝR, ODROERIR and more (i.e. the many festivals BLACK MESSIAH has played at so far). Sadly they haven’t played on Belgian soil yet. No interest from promotors? Not enough people that would show up? BLACK MESSIAH is sadly enough not the only band in the list. Anyway, a new album thus, “The Final Journey”, out since the 24th February 2012. No drawn cover art this time (unlike before), but a photoshopped one. Stil, blue is again the dominant colour, like on “Oath Of A Warrior” and “Of Myths And Legends”.
I had hoped BLACK MESSIAH would sort of make a sequel to “First War Of The World” or at least have another concept album with spoken parts, but it turns out “The Final Journey” is a mix of old and new patterns: normal songs, in English and German, and to conclude “The Naglfar Saga” consisting of four parts, featuring the narrator of “First War Of The World”, namely Tom Zahner (see also the interview I had with Zagan and Brööh in 2009). And that’s a good thing! On the other hand, this also splits the tracklist into two parts, unless the songs (or majority of them) are connected, theme-wise. I didn’t notice it at first, but there’s also a CANDLEMASS cover here. Since BLACK MESSIAH played it so well, it could even have been one of their own songs.
The first track is “Windloni”. What it means, I don’t know, but I do know the song has a long intro where epic keyboards dominate. In collaboration with the Metal side of things, they work towards a climax. At which point all instruments stop and icy winds bring in Polka Metal, or melodic Blackened Power Metal with the typical elements that characterize BLACK MESSIAH’s music. This is great stuff, brought to life by the addition of non-musical elements like explosions and icy winds. The keyboards remain a dominant factor, but the power of guitars is not to be denied. The band also paid attention to instrumental moments, including harpischord-like keyboards after which the humpa-verses return, as does the hymnic chorus. The ending is direct and to the point. A very good start of this journey, indeed.
Next is “Der Ring Mit Dem Kreuz” (English: The Ring With The Cross). This is a firm midtempo Folk Metal song where the violin leads the way, countered by the guitars and drums. Again the verses have that humpa-beat and the guitars dominating. Accordion accents do try to weave some melodicness in this domain. Zagan’s harsh vocals do what they must do, logically, as the music is more Black Metal influenced. The chorus is more of the (uptempo) Power Metal kind with atmospheric backing to make it sound grander. In addition, you’ll hear clean vocals here, singing in an anthemic manner. My compliments, guys! The keyboards are here as well an important element with regards to melody. It’s nice to hear, in terms of variety, a Black Metal bridge with accustomed drumming. The solo moment consists of the violin at first and trumpets, assisted by the power of guitars and drums. After that it’s back to business as usual, though ending with an instrumental, violin-led piece. Quite a musically varied dish on offer here. I like it!
After two highlights, there is song no. 3: “To Become A Man”. This track begins slow, sounds dark and grim. So it carries on with a high focus on guitars and drums. The atmospheric backing gives the music a ghostly, holy touch, so to speak. And then it’s acceleration time, humpa-style. Shrieky vocals and raging, Blackened Metal is streaming out of the speakers. This connects with a melodic bridge (where the kickdrums are high in the mix, I must say) and dito chorus. The intro theme returns and so does the Polka Metal when the solo is due. The keyboards also get their moment of glory later on with trumpets a bit comparable to how TURISAS did it on their first or second album. The becoming of man ends with a bang and outro like a band finishes a song at gigs. All in all, a good song, but there’s too much of the humpa stuff, in my opinion.
Another highlight, as said above, is the CANDLEMASS cover “Into The Unfathomed Tower”. This is a fast, Power Metal-ish song. Yes, CANDLEMASS is a Doom Metal band, but on rare occasions they change into higher gear. The original can be found on the “Tales Of Creation” album. While CANDLEMASS has the guitar doing the solos, here Zagan and co. chose the violin for that role. Another song I found less interesting/appealing is “Feld Der Ehre” (Engish: “Field Of Honour”). It begins slowly and sound dark, sad and gloomy. Not only because of the atmospheric backing, but Zagan’s singing contributes heavily as well, especially in the chorus. It’s as if he’s mourning. which probably is a logical deducation when one would read the lyrics (which I haven’t done… yet). The solo is played by the violin.
Time to travel back to 793 A.D. then, to the English coast where there was a monastery on the small island of Lindisfarne. There the Danish vikings raided the monastery and started their conquest of the island. The intro indicates that something is about to give and it does when fast drums are added. The rhythm changes once the verses are set in, humpa again, but slower than before. The chorus is fast, but dramatic, as you can imagine what happened at the time of the killing. The fast drums seem to represent the fast and unannounced manner in which the Danish attacked. The sadness of the music then can be linked to the consequences… for the inhabitants. The bridge has a hymnic character. Overall, however, there’s lots of fast Black Metal-ish drumming and again the song ends like the band played a gig. The lyrics are sung in German, perhaps because the harshness of the language is better to tell the story.
Another story is “The Naglfar Saga”. What is Naglfar? During the events of Ragnarök, Naglfar is foretold to sail to Vígríðr, ferrying hordes that will there battle with the gods. Naglfar is attested in the “Poetic Edda”, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. The boat itself has been connected by scholars with a larger pattern of ritual hair and nail disposal among Indo-Europeans, stemming from Proto-Indo-European custom, and it may be depicted on the Tullstorp Runestone in Scania, Sweden. For more info, see for example Wikipedia (click here). BLACK MESSIAH composed four tracks with regards to this ship. First of all, a “Prologue”. This calm, atmospheric and Folk-ish track consists of the acoustic guitar and violin. The narrator of “First War Of The World”, Tom Zahner, returns here, albeit it shortly. The music itself is quite soothing and relaxing. This feeling changes dramatically when “Mother Hel” appears. Are you ready for an active boat trip? The building is slow, but then things get active indeed. Fast stuff kicks in. What does stand out is the operatic-ish chorus, which is slow and hymnic. There’s also a violin solo, followed by a female-sung piece. Well done, of course, but whose voice is this?
“On Board” of the ship a repeated lick (or tapping?) is played, joined a little later by atmospheric Metal. The feeling is dark and gloomy, but also solemn (if that word fits here). Don’t worry, fast Black Metal does kick in soon enough and with a catchy chorus thanks to the keyboard input. All falls silent later as a calm acoustic piece is played. And is that a clarinet? It’s definitely a woodwind instrument that can be heard. There’s of course also a guitar solo before bringing back the verses, chorus, etc… with fast, violent and fierce music. This is very tasty stuff, no doubt about that. The ship carries on, “Sailing Into Eternity”. It sounds like a ballad at first, which is the chorus part with keyboard leads, but the verses are different. The vocal department is occupied by extreme ones on one side and the operatic ones on the other side. Before the obligatory guitar solo there is a violent musical outbreak. Winds blow into the sails, as Naglfar continues its journey.
As enthusiastic as I was about “First War Of The World”, I can’t say if BLACK MESSIAH topped it with “The Final Journey”. Truth is that the Germans once again prove they are a great band with wonderful tunes and are able to write strong songs that can stand the test of time and multiple listens. Like I said, I was hoping for a sequel, but it’s only half in terms of taking one theme/subject (Naglfar in this case, the war between the Aesir and Vanir previously). Having the narrator, Tom Zahner, again is a positive aspect. It makes the story more lively. The production is good, but I prefer that of “First War Of The World” a little more. Long story short, like before, I can only heavily recommend “The Final Journey”, for it is not only one of the best releases of 2012, but a strong confirmation (again) of BLACK MESSIAH’s qualities and skills. Hails!
- Der Ring Mit Dem Kreuz
- To Become A Man
- Into The Unfathomed Tower (A Tribute To Candlemass)
- Feld Der Ehre
- The Naglfar Saga: Prologue – The Final Journey
- The Naglfar Saga: Mother Hel
- The Naglfar Saga: On Board
- The Naglfar Saga: Sailing Into Eternity
Zagan – vocals, guitar, violin
Frangus – guitar
Meldric – guitar
Agnar – keyboards
Garm – bass
Brööh – drums