Metal Review – Opium Warlords: Taste My Sword of Understanding

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Metal Review – Opium Warlords: Taste My Sword of Understanding
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Opium Warlords: Taste My Sword of Understanding
Avant-Garde Doom Metal, Drone
Svart Records
May 30th, 2014
Release length: 1:12:28
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When it comes to obscure underground bands with a decent following, Finland’s Opium Warlords pretty much tops the charts. This is a one-man operation that was forged back in 2004 by Sami Albert Hynninen (Azrael Rising, former Reverend Bizarre). While an Avant-Garde Doom Metal and Drone act, much of its existence stems from the Punk and Post-Punk worlds. The band name supposedly stems from Dee Dee Ramone’s autobiography, while the 2009 debut full-length album Live at Colonia Dignidad (which, no, was not a live recording) inspired by The Fall‘s Live at the Witch Trials. But it wasn’t until 2012’s We Meditate Under the Pussy in the Sky that people started taking notice. While it wasn’t too well received, Opium Warlords returns to Svart Records unleash their third full-length studio album Taste My Sword of Understanding, returning to the one hour plus length the first recording touted. But is it really something worth experiencing, or is it just an uninspiring mess under the guise of the “Avant-Garde” label?

Compared to the previous outing, Taste My Sword of Understanding is a bit of a different beast in that there’s both more substance that leads to stronger performances. This might be due to the extensive time line behind its creation, as well as some additional members this time around. According to the accompanying press release the material here was composed between 1994 and 2009, was recorded back in 2010 with co-producer Jouni Leppikangas, but was never actually mixed until Joona Lukala got involved with it in 2013. Fans may remember both of them from their involvement in the last Opium Warlords effort. On top of that, Sami is not alone in this venture. Erkki Virta (Protected Illusion, L.A.M.F.) and Laura Lansimaki (Maria), who is also involved with Armanenschaft, another group Sami is involved with. When comparing to We Meditate Under the Pussy in the Sky, there’s no denying that these elements in some way play a role in making this effort much more cohesive, though just as bleak and foreboding when need be.

“The Sadness of Vultures” will instantly remind the listener of what Opium Warlords is largely known for: It’s minimal Drone performances. Simple held guitar notes and additional effects in the background make it uneasy to listen to thanks to the paranoia of someone stalking in the background you simply won’t be able to shake. It won’t hit you right away and will take an additional spin to realize the desired effect in its entirety instead of maybe half way through on your first spin. This makes the perfect build-up to the traditional Doom Metal performance on “The Self-Made Man.” The slow, trudging music and cold, decrepit atmosphere is reminiscent of My Dying Bride and early Cathedral. Things remain this way with equally morose singing until around the nine minute mark where the music takes more of a Progressive Metal twist thanks to the sound of the much louder bass guitar and latter Jazz-esque groove that wraps things up.

The only other track that ends up coming close to “The Self-Made Man” is “Mount Meru.” This fourteen minute long opushas a little more complexity in the guitars despite how slow it moves along. By the seven minue mark there is a chance to whispering layered voices against clean chords that seem like its setting up the potential of a bad drug reaction. Instead of taking advantage of this, it brings the catchy down-tuned Doom Metal back once more before returning to the glory days of early Heavy Metal and first wave of Black Metal acts. Mercyful Fate is one of those groups that immediately comes to mind. Sadly, much like before, it’s a short lived change.

The material after “The Self-Made Man” greatly varies. “The God in Ruins” is a cold piece that moves along slower, but the frantic Depressive Black Metal mood are present against desperate screams from a man that seems to almost be pleading for his life. Then there’s the instrumental piece “The Land Beyond the Pole” that is a lot lighter due to a catchy rhythm that’s established by what sounds like a cheap drum machine effect. That not-so-burdening silliness is interrupted about two minutes in with shrill guitar notes similar to those found on “The Sadness of Vultures,” reminding you that you’re still trapped in this dark and twisted musical landscape that the Opium Warlords are in full manipulation of.

“This Place Has Been Passed” is the most intriguing of all though. The soft music and use of acoustic guitars creates a subtle Shoegaze foundation that the deeper clean singing manages to make sound completely depressing in a genuinely heartfelt manner before teasing some sharpened Black Metal riffs, only to spiral back down into a miserable Viking-esque ceremonial Doom Metal performance. The overall mood and rhythm seem to reappear in “Manisolas from Misandria,” though it’s much richer, and even more sinister sounding courtesy the effects on the guitars creating the sound of wind whipping by with demonic cackling or innocent voices that seem to cry out for help.

Taste My Sword of Understanding is kind of the ugly duckling amid a vile flock. While it isn’t bad and one of the more accessible efforts in the Opium Warlords discography thus far, it just feels like so much more could have been accomplished despite the long composition phase. Many tracks merge together, and in a few cases seem to tell some kind of expansive story among them. The extensive Doom Metal cuts like “The Self-Made Man” and “Mount Meru” make up just two of the surprisingly engrossing cuts this album has to offer. Even “This Place Has Been Passed” is a unique enough offering to leave a memorable imprint on the listener. But some of the Avant-Garde elements do seem held back. While it may not have worked too well in the past, this is one of those groups that have defined itself as an entity that goes all in, so to pick up on restraint almost left a taste of weakness to the palette of an otherwise surprisingly cold, commanding, and even slightly Folkish entity. That being said, what songs get it right are still worth a listen, and while the entire opus may not be your thing, Taste My Sword of Understanding ends up a release well worth checking out to see if this side of Opium Warlords is more to your liking.

01. The Sadness of Vultures – 5:09
02. The Self-Made Man – 12:14
03. The God in Ruins – 9:42
04. The Slar Burial – 8:09
05. The Land Beyond the Pole – 4:31
06. Mount Meru – 14:12
07. This Place Has Been Passed – 8:06
08. Manisolas from Misandria – 3:21
09. In Melancholy Moonless Acheron – 7:14
Initial Pressing Score: 6.5/10

Opium Warlords
Opium Warlords

Digital review copy of this release provided by Svart Records.