After four long years of anticipation and relative silence peppered with the occasional single or demo, Werewolf, the mastermind behind the revered Satanic Warmaster, appeared from nothingness in 2014 to plant upon the world his fifth menhir, Fimbulwinter, a coffin-like oblong monument that reiterates the brilliance of honest-to-goodness black metal, a statement that plants itself steadfastly in soil tainted by the likes of superficial imitation, mislabeling, and appropriation.
Sporting with it the classic dark-dim-dungeon production that has long characterized his music, Werewolf’s return is packed with riffs and melodies put into motion by buzzsaw guitars that shear and slice and blast throughout the record, forming a wide and colossal stomping ground for the vocal work’s wicked-sharp wretches and throes, the drive behind the album’s thematic power, one that is much more focused and specific than on previous Warmaster works. On this outing, Werewolf invests himself in his performance like never before, straining himself to the farthest stretches his growls can take him, shrieking and ripping and tearing with undeterred prowess to match the album’s tenebrous intensity, which, unlike its predecessors, most of which were willingly cavernous and suffocated, is just clear and full enough in its joyously organic production to allow the notes to become individually discernable, like bricks that build into the music’s thorn-covered sonic wall, a decision that forms part of the record’s decidedly atmospheric approach, featuring a new sound that shimmers like hoarfrost yet is dense like billowing storm clouds and wintery fog, building into buffeting and blistering holocaust winds that echo the unstoppable assaults of Battles in the North-era Immortal, winds that welt and skin, cruelly and monstrously, yet give way to hidden melodies that swirl like the blizzard blasts they form, all complemented by the sounds of serpentine winds, crashing thunders, and raven calls that are sprinkled throughout the album. All of it combined—from Werewolf’s vocals that vividly become the whipping and lashing of storms, to the icicle-sharpness of the music—allows the album to create its own realm of ice, the ambition of the aforementioned Battles fully realized here. Opener “Fimbulwinter’s Spell” unleashes a thrashing and limitless chilling expanse of overpowering and freezing notes, cutting with sleet and rime, stabbing and numbing like frostbite—it’s the album’s horrendous virtue, its promise of doom under the weight of eternal cold.
But even in the most visceral of attacks, the songs build into larger monoliths that shift and change like the crevices or cliff-valleys of teeth-like mountain stretches, those all-consuming blizzards giving way to acoustic reprieves or the silken touches of ambient synth, or breaking open into gentler, sometimes folky melodies that give the album the singular mystical touch of medieval darkness, all of it reminiscent of classic Satyricon and, in turn, the passionate might of Bathory’s Hammerheart, exemplified by “Funeral Wolves,” which forms at first as a hopeless storm, and then gives way to the beauty of ice and snow and frozen moonlight, or “Dragon’s Egg,” which lays down a reverence of heraldic, ancient creatures, a song that is principally characterized by awe and dread, and then transforms into a genuinely climactic sense of discovery.
In every way, the album bears the spirit of its eponymous mythological apocalypse: massive and colossal, the album leaves the misanthropic dungeon occultism of previous Warmaster records in place of a cloudy, almost fantastical vision complemented by its cold, desolate glimmers and treacherous peaks, enormous in scale and scope without resorting to exaggerated snapshots of enormous battles or worlds in crisis—it’s a terribly personal apocalypse, like being caught in an endless valley of freezing snow and growing ice in total solitude, the album possessing the much-coveted mark of mature black metal: that elusive balance between sorrow and aggression, all of its elements swirling together to create an inspiring, intoxicating mixture. Even the most adventurous of the album’s songs, like the mighty “When Thunders Hail,” which features a joyously danceable, classically folk riff and ghostly northern lights in the form of those velvety synth touches, is both uncompromisingly abrasive yet underlined by a charging, razor-like solemnity that appears silhouetted through the thickly brewed and ever-slashing guitar attack. In its sound, and in its songwriting, the album is graceful and strong, being intimately familiar with grimness but capable of rising to moments of pristine wonder, like the boreal tunnels of “Nuin-Gaer-Faun,” which are witness to the glories of both the album’s destructive sway and the underlying moments of driving somberness that appear between and within the swings of the axe.
In its entirety, in its cohesion, and in its individual songs, the album is thoroughly majestic and dignified, beautiful, even. As awfully misused as the word “Epic” is, it really, honestly fits here—the record’s atmosphere creates the distinct sensation of a place of unending winter, built by equally arctic music, capturing a sense of otherworldliness, another of black metal’s mystifying powers. As “Winter’s Hunger” ends in waves of synth and flourishes of frosty guitars, it feels like a book’s end, like leaving that otherworld far behind as it shrinks in the horizon. While the album is 52 minutes long, it never overstays its welcome, and save for the third track, “Korppi,” a cover, which feels a little bland when in the context of its surroundings, the album is absolutely grand. Werewolf lives up to the legacy he has built in Satanic Warmaster, and once more, he delivers a masterwork to fit into his canon. While apart in tone and ambience from his original works, it remains as part of his lineage of pure and true black metal, and it stands out as a spectacular contribution, a mesmerizing album that manages to contend its own force even against the best on offer from other masters of the craft, especially in the year of its release. If this is the direction Werewolf wants Warmaster to take, a contrast even to the singles he released leading up to Fimbulwinter’s, and if he can make another record to match the greatness of this one, he can take all the time he needs. After all, the future looks very bright.
Why not take a quick listen?