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Dark Funeral were instrumental in opening black metal to a wider audience at the turn of the century, at least here in Sweden. During this their golden age the band released a solid string of albums and their live shows opened the eyes of an entire generation for hymns praising the dark one. Since then the band has reached a stalemate with less inspiring albums and labile lineups. The bands 20th anniversary show was a fantastic experience but also showed a former monumental act slowly drowning and gasping for air.
Then something happened, long time vocalist Emperor Magus Caligula left once and for all and was replaced by Heljarmadr (also in Grá and Cursed 13) which seemed to bring a much sought for stability to Dark Funeral. Just like their genre brethren in Marduk entered a second golden age when Mortuus entered the band does the same phenomenon now seem to be happening in the Dark Funeral camp. Their show at last year's Mörkaste Småland festival was not as special an occasion as their anniversary show but it showed a band with a hunger and determination that had been partly lost since the early 2000's.
Does that regained hunger translate well to the album format? Well, when two of the songs from 'Where Shadows Forever Reign' were released as a teaser single last year my impression was simply two solid tunes showing an older and better side of Dark Funeral. With the entire full-length in hand I can firmly state that the two teaser tracks were representative for the album as a whole but not the its songs.
The blue cover art signed by the legendary Necrolord sparked further theories that the band had decided to head back to their roots. Although, the tone on 'Where Shadows Forever Reign' reminds much of its closest predecessors, partly due to the crisp meaty modern production, the album as a whole displays a dynamic in the songwriting that has not been heard since 'The Secrets of the Black Arts'. Parts of the dark aggressive blastfests from the turn of the millennia can still be found on songs like 'As One We Shall Conquer' and 'To Carve Another Wound', but the more mid-tempo oriented expression on tunes like 'As I Ascend' and the title track brings out a more epic, depressive and restrained atmosphere.
These different expressions on 'Where Shadows Forever Reign' are perfectly accentuated by Heljarmadr's well-articulated raspy vocals which are the most dynamic the band has seen to date. The combination of hatred and solemn depression, aggression and restraint, serves as a lesson for the entire scene on how to write a dynamic black metal album where the whole experience becomes bigger than its individual pieces. Still, most of the songs on this album are outright brilliant and many of the riffs are the best Lord Ahriman has ever written. Picking favorite songs from this one is unusually difficult.
When I reviewed the bands performance at the Mörkaste Småland festival I was afraid by big words on how the band was heading towards a second golden age was going to come back and bite me big time in the old keister. After giving 'Where Shadows Forever Reign' some ten spins I realize my words were actually rather small. This album does not fall into the easy trap of being 'The Secrets of the Black Arts 2' but is rather Dark Funeral in the year 2016 drawing well-needed inspiration from their efforts both past and present. Above all though it is a prime example of a well-written dynamic album bringing aggression and depression together and serves as a handbook on writing black metal in the year of the dark lord 2016.