When something great passes, people stand around wishing for more of those moments of power and beauty that it brought. And so we get the black metal equivalent of Django Wilson and his Electric Band Play the Hits of the Beatles, except that now it is a black metal version which revisits the greatest moments of early Gorgoroth through a filter of Ancient and Graveland. Nothing here is poorly executed but the whole misses the driving spirit of black metal that gave it its profundity and instead works on recombining known tropes that once gave it great intensity.
All of the classic attributes are here: the minor-key trailing melodies, the bombastic resurgent themes, the shifting between riffs conveying a sense of hope and thus returning to a feral despair, but the animating force that holds them together does not appear. Like a musical version of Frankenstein’s monster, The Divination of Antiquity is the most beautiful black metal album ever made from pieces of its best, but it lacks the soul to see beyond the immediate and material and touch the conceptual ground of actual black metal. Winterfylleth make songs with the basic feel and sensation of black metal, but without the intention behind it, they never develop to any conclusion sufficient for black metal and instead detour into the semi-circular wistful feeling that indie-rock and post-metal — both witnesses to the decline of human society in lugubrious ways, but helpless observers and not soul-participants in the counteraction — create that are the artistic equivalent of euthanasia. Like back, watch it happen, relax and let the waves wash over you. It will all be over soon.
As the album progresses, The Divination of Antiquity starts falling back on more rock and jazz tropes to supplement its diminishing store of black metal landmark moments. The result is pleasant to listen to and evokes many of the old feelings, but like uncompleted thoughts they linger in conversation outside the French coffeehouse and dissipate on the car exhaust and cold air of the morning breeze. It would be wonderful to find in this “what once was,” but that would be the equivalent of concluding the recent Star Wars movies will have the impact of the original out of nostalgia, and ignoring the obvious missing elements which, and not its accessories and techniques, made the original so powerful.