1349 - Official Website - News
Review by Nathan on December 23, 2020.
One of the little quirks of the Norwegian scene is that many of the most popular artists - Mayhem, Burzum and Emperor, to name a few- don't actually give you a proper sense of what "Norwegian black metal" sounds like. 1349, for me, is the biggest band I could point to that also stands as a good stock representation of the genre. Their thrash-rooted base, roided up with blast beats out the ass, then supplemented with a little garnish of evil arpeggios and the theatrical is the same foundation that the rest of their region tends to draw from. In short, they're the biggest generic black metal band in Norway.
At their worst, this band is Frost propping up a bunch of nobodies who can't write a memorable section to save their lives, but Hellfire might be the only album where Archaon wrote riffs that could actually hold their own with the overwhelming drum performance. The thin yet loud production helps the guitars cut through, even though Frost's snare sounds like it has a paper bag taped to it during the blasts - not that I mind, I've heard way worse. The first few songs in particular feel overwhelming, and have some unbelievably catchy riffs stitched into song structures that manage to have an ebb and flow, while still maintaining a feeling like it could all explode into a maelstrom of entropy at any second. The vocalist has a very loose, narrative style that sometimes falls in and out of rhythm with the song to enhance the chaos, adding what is necessary with a bit of extra flair and venom. I've never noticed 1349 vocals on an album other than this one - not sure if it's just because they're at the forefront of the production?
This tends to be 1349's most talked-about and highest regarded album, and it makes sense why - it's where a band that is known for being intense and riffy is at their peak of intensity and riff superiority, and have learned enough lessons in their first couple of releases to make sure they had a spot on sound for what they were going for. The high point of the album is 'Celestial Deconstruction', because you're three tracks deep, full of riffs, and that one pulls back with a longer-form, more melodic and (relatively) mid paced song that just keeps cranking out headbang-worthy riffs in every different way you can imagine.
My main qualm with this album, however, is the drop in quality when the song concludes. 'To Rottendom' is okay, but a lot of the stuff after that just feels like aimless stamina exercises for Frost, plagued with a lot of the chronic un-memorability that especially plagued them in their later years. Hellfire is definitely front-loaded, but at least you get an absolute feast of nasty Norwegian riffs for the first 20 minutes, and the production is distinct enough that it makes the lackluster second half tolerable. I'd be lying if I said I make it through the massive title track at the end very often, if at all. Regardless, if you're going to do a deep dive on this band, Hellfire is 100% where you should start, as it's got that manic, everything-all-at-once vibe that any extremophile should love, as well as their best choice cuts for the riff connoisseurs.
Rating: 8.4 out of 10241