The Rickety Old Shack

Darkenhöld — Memoria Sylvarum

album cover

With the explosion of black metal's popularity over the past couple decades, pretty much every country — up-to-and-including Azerbaijan — has at least one contribution to the genre. Where many newer acts tend more towards the atmospheric, post-rock end of the spectrum, France's Darkenhöld are a bit of a throwback to the mid-to-late 90s — specifically to Stormblåst-era Dimmu Borgir. Both of their names mean "dark castle," and Darkenhöld describe their style as "medieval black metal." (They also adorn their album covers with a lot of castles in various states of disrepair, just to hammer the aesthetic home.)

I quite enjoyed the group's previous album, Castellum, as well as their digitally re-issued split release with Naastrand, so this new record was something I was looking forward to. Memoria Sylvarum delivers pretty much exactly what I expected, a set of fairly raw recordings of melodic black metal. The vocals are the standard fair, wretched but reasonably intelligable — depending on how good your French is — and the instrumentals are well executed and far from paint-by-numbers black metal. As with any music, there are some genre staples — certain blast beats, and tremolo-picked progressions in this case — but the material does feel genuine.

The production job the band employs harkens back to the old days, when black metal bands had started to record their albums with more than just an old tape recorder sitting at the bottom of a trash can somewhere in the vicinity of the band playing. The audio quality is reasonably clear, but far removed from the pristine, crystal clarity of modern digital recordings. If you told me Memoria Sylvarum was an old record from the early oughts, I wouldn't even question it. I appreciate this quality, as a nice change and a nod to the past. I hesitate to use the term "low-fi," the album sounds professionally recorded just not digitally processed and edited to any great degree.

As with the band's past work, I found Memoria Sylvarum to be very enjoyable and have gone back numerous times for repeated listenings. Each song flows well, from one to the next, without blurring together. The material is hardly a depature from any of their past work, but the material feels a little tighter and better written. There is a heavy dose of melody, including acoustic guitar passages and other brief, atmospheric detours but, for the most part, Memoria Sylvarum kicks out the jams for the record's 44-minute running time. This is a quality metal album, and not for any nostalgic reasons — this is a good batch of tunes that doesn't sound like every other band out there.

Summary

Melodic, medieval black metal from genre stalwarts Darkenhöld. The group's 4th album, Memoria Sylvarum continues along a well-worn path, while sounding nothing like a group just going through the motions. The group's distinct, old school sound perfectly complements the song arrangements; this is a good record for curious new and tenured black metal fans alike. It would be nice to hear Darkenhöld add more nuances to their sound in the future but, for now, they've got a formula that keeps producing great results. One of the better black metal albums of 2017.

Album Information

Release date: May 17th, 2017
Record label: Independent

Cervantes — vocals
Aldébaran — guitar, keyboards, bass, vocals
Aboth — drums, percussion, keyboards

Track Listing

  1. Sombre Val
  2. La Chevauchée des Esprits de Jadis
  3. Ruines Scellées en la Vieille Forêt
  4. A l'Orée de l'Escalier Sylvestre
  5. La Grotte de la Chèvre d'Or
  6. Sous la Voûte de Chênes
  7. Clameur des Falaises
  8. Errances (Lueur des Sources Oubliées)
  9. Présence des Orbes

Link: darkenhold.bandcamp.com

—by Derek

Published: March 14th, 2018.