First off, I should explain what this album isn't. It isn't a perfected version of the classic Norwegian black metal formula. It isn't a murky, chilly, lo-fi album. It isn't an all-out assault on the senses. It isn't designed to appeal to kvlt purists. And it isn't dreary, atmospheric indie black metal.
So what is it, then? It's a perfect example of why young black metal bands are better off finding their own identities. There's not another band I can bring readily to mind that this sounds like, to my ears. There are moments and similarities, but this doesn't follow any set formula too closely. The best I can some up with is a combination of Behemoth's black metal side, slow Nile songs, and a healthy dose of Carach Angren all rolled into one oversized slab of black metal. The production is clean, and the overall sound is more polished than I usually want in a black metal album, but for what the band was trying to do here I think it was necessary.
For the most part, the guitar work tends toward the melancholic end of the spectrum, with a lot of melodic, evocative riffs. There are still plenty of hostile, aggressive passages, though. And that is a big strength of the record: it makes use of a relatively broad tonal spectrum. There are a lot of things going on in this album, with frequent changes of tone, pace, and dynamic coming along, often accompanied by assorted complementary backing instruments (largely synthesized on a keyboard, I think, but still quite effective and never overbearing). It all manages to flow together coherently, keeping the music interesting without becoming jarring.
The vocals are wildly varied. Everything from black metal rasps to distant monstrous bellows to ominous spoken word passages to echoing Middle-Eastern chants crops up on this record. As far as I can see, every member but the drummer makes vocal contributions, and the result is a huge, complex blend of sounds and styles that make this one of the most vocally rich and interesting black metal records I've ever encountered.
There seems to be something almost operatic in the composition of some of the music (though not in the vocals), which infuses several songs with a sense of sweeping drama. It never goes too far, though, before some unexpected twist pulls it back down to earth or carries the music off in some other direction. These tactics go a long way toward keeping the album feeling fresh long after most records would have worn out their welcome.
Some trouble does crop up when we get deep into the seventy-minute runtime, though. The ninth track, "Salvation Is the Son of Leviathan (Alabas in Memoriam)" is basically a six-minute interlude that should probably have been trimmed down to less than half that length. At a certain point, I found it detaching me from the music in a way that would work fine as an outro. The trouble is, that wasn't the outro. Instead, it just made me take several minutes to reengage with the music for the twelve-minute finale. It's my only real quibble with this record, but in an otherwise amazingly engaging album, such a misstep stood out enough to be worth noting.
Overall, I thought this was a tremendous release. Yes, it gets off track briefly around the one-hour mark, but it still pulls things together for a strong finish. And the music leading up to that point is some of the best I've heard this year. I can definitely see where this wouldn't appeal to every black metal fan, but for me personally, it was a major winner.