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Beherit - Engram
Review: A genre peaks as it defines itself through the clearest examples of its form, and after that becomes self-referential as it imitates that surface definition without understanding the ideas that motivated its creation. Beherit cleaves the stagnation with an album that renews the black metal metaphor by eschewing adornment to explore the possibilities of many simple parts organized to work together in a trancelike, meditative, ritual state.
Engram presents a triumph for ambient thinking: its basic riffs go back to the early days of black metal but its use of sonic layers puts it more in league with Tangerine Dream and other electronic bands who saw how the collaboration of sounds was more powerful than an instrumental extravaganza. It does so while returning to the faster, addictively memetic riffing that made early Beherit capture a spirit like fast descending night.
Where Burzum culiminated black metal with Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, which raised the bar by layering basic riffs into epic songs, Engram develops that idea by making infectious rhythm and vocal hooks unite basic songs around a theme which is modified by layers of additional instruments. Keyboards and distorted sounds play countermelodies from the background, with great subtlety that creates an expanding trance in a mood of reverent expectation. Notably, the album opens with a possibly Hlidskjalf-inspired freeform riffing from a harmonium or something like it.
In addition to the first and last tracks, which form parentheses to hold the album, "Pagan Moon" offers a form of codex with an acoustic melody that unites the ideas presented in the most basic tracks with those developed in its parenthetical ones. Other influences abound: "All in Satan" vamps early Bathory, "Pagan Moon" appreciates Sarcofago's "Nightmare," and "Axiom Heroine" resembles "Black Arts" from earlier Beherit. Listen for a use of bounding rhythms in ritual context as on Electric Doom Synthesis, and background introductions of fragmented sound to harmonize themes in their position for poetic effect.
The album culminates in "Demon Advance," which borrows from "Ambush" on Electric Doom Synthesis, and builds over a trudging riff a concert of harsh vocals and digital sounds to create the magical atmosphere longtime fans expect from Beherit. It places old school black metal techniques in a new context. Perhaps instead of a comeback revival of the past, this album creates musical space for the next generation of black metal.