Review – Blackdeath: Totentanz

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  • Bio: "Blackdeath was founded back in 1995 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The line-up has changed since the foundation and for the latest several years [...]" - Bandcamp
  • Label: Heidens Hart Records
  • Release Date: January 1st, 2016
  • Genre: Black Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Since forming as Draugwath back in 1995 (spending two years later under the title Black Draugwath), Russia’s Blackdeath have been a pretty strong force in the black metal underground. They have issued eight full-length albums including their 2015 effort Gift, not to mention a handful of EP and split recordings in between. To kick off 2016, they present an official compilation through Heidens Hart Records of their contributions to the 2004 Totentanz split with Mortifera, as well as the follow-up from 2005 with Leviathan. But were these performances worth recapturing this way, or are they better left in the depths of the underground?

Right away, long time fans would notice some changes with this new pressing of the band’s prior split material. One of the biggest changes is that the songs have all been remastered in an attempt to make them sound as fluid as possible. This is partially due to the other change, which is the differing track order. Both split recordings have been mashed together in an attempt to make both parts sound like one extensive recording with as little a difference in production and mastering as possible. This does work out for the most part, though some obvious issues like a hollow, rawer sound can still be picked up on quite easily, not to mention obvious differences in the output of the drum machine utilized between both releases.

Unlike if this kept to the original tack list for both releases, Totentanz drones forward with “47° 9′ S. Br. und 126° 34′ W. L.”, which is nothing more than a theatrical stinger effect in a poorly edited loop with differing tones and volume levels that drone on for nearly two-and-a-half minutes. Honestly, it serves little purpose, especially at that length, and leaves you itching to hit that skip next button thirty seconds in, if not quicker on repeat spins. “Wenn der vierte Mond fallt”, however, is a pretty sturdy, bass driven cut with some catchy melodic tendencies the deeper bass riffs help pull to the forefront to disguise the obvious drum machine sound in the background. While the latter isn’t too detrimental to the overall product, it does pull the listener out of the natural Russian chill and madness the eccentric, gurgling vocal approach incorporates to the mix, something new listeners may need some time getting accustomed to.

Blackdeath

Sadly, the crisp, bass driven approach of modern-day doesn’t always work in the band’s benefit for the songs taken from the Leviathan split, though it does show the then duo attempting something a little different at least. “Der absolut Böse” starts off in more of a technological manner, a mechanical undertone that creeps up from time to time, such as approaching the doom metal grade half-way point of the song where the distortions can sometimes be misconstrued as being more industrial strength than instrumental. There’s also a hint of gothic intent about that time, though very short lived. “Bis zum Grabe”, however, embraces that with a nightmarish, trance inducing waltz rhythm complimented by additional keyboards momentarily as the pace slowly picks up to more of a commanding march than a patriarchal high society dance pattern from years gone by.

But then you have the songs torn from the split with Mortifera, which do actually stand the test of time a little better, even with their rawer presentation. Unlike those from the Leviathan split, these tracks sound a little more heated overall, not to mention primal and crazed when the band really cuts loose. “Totenburg” is a mixture of that frenzy with slower, chillier passages that share an early Immortal occultism the snarling vocal approach plays off of quite nicely. Even the drum machine sounds far more human, helping give “Posaunenruf” a far more robust sound in comparison. While it still hits the listener with some slower marching orders, there are plenty of explosive moments, such as at the start when the whole thing just erupts with a venomous fury with little concern to any within its path. No, the pace doesn’t remain this way by the end, but the varying shifts in adrenaline work well to make this just over four-and-a-half minute effort a long, arduous trek, but in more of a well paced, epic manner than anything negative.

Unfortunately, as a whole, Totentanz is far from a truly memorable experience. Yes, there’s plenty of catchy riffs, but the use of a drum machine, regardless of how raw, is still distracting given how unnatural it can sound. What really stands out are the melodies and marching rhythms established in the guitar, as well as the maddening vocal approach throughout the release, offering something a little different to the traditional second wave black metal approach the band utilizes. What really drags this release down are the cuts from the Leviathan split. Other than “Wenn der vierte Mond Fallt” and “The Raised”, the latter thanks to its helpless atmosphere and sense of isolation due to the effect on the vocals, which are just not that impressive in the end.

It’s interesting to see both split contributions handled in this manner. Not only does Totentanz take what seems to be a two-part series and turn it into something relatively new, it manages to showcase the group’s change of direction in those years prior to bringing an actual drummer into the mix. While the growth wasn’t the most beneficial given today’s modern improvements and how they impact the overall quality of the latter split’s recordings, it does show the once primal group attempting something different that achieves the same atmospheric toll. Blackdeath prove there’s a reason they’ve been around for so long with Totentanz, and even though it’s not the most awe-inspiring of Russian black metal efforts, it’s a compilation that is still worth checking out, and a good start to 2016.

Blackdeath

Digital review copy of this release provided by Heidens Hart Records via Against PR.