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Review: The Wretched End, 'Inroads' 

***1/2
click to enlarge The Wretched End, 'Inroads'

The Wretched End
Inroads
Nocturnal Art Productions

No matter how far their musical ambitions stray from black metal classics like In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Samoth and Ihsahn's post-Emperor careers have always maintained some of that signature sound they forged together. Inroads, the second LP by Samoth's The Wretched End, is no exception.

Still, The Wretched End is an all-encompassing, democratic project, with elements of death, black and thrash metal sharing the limelight. The ever-present Emperor nods sneak out in the black metal passages, but it's just as accurate to note acts as disparate as Unleashed and Slayer among the many points of reference.

Inroads smartly never tries to reinvent the wheel, focusing instead on finding the best way to blend its influences within the confines of conventional song structure. Innovation clearly isn't what Samoth and bandmates Cosmo and Nils Fjellström were after, and that's fine. Armed with massive hooks played on lead guitar - try not to hum the triumphant focal point of "Cold Iron Soul" all day after hearing it - and songs that build to climaxes without ever relenting for denouements, Samoth may have finally put out his best album since the demise of Emperor.

That doesn't mean it's without its flaws, of course. For all its headbanging goodness, there's little in the way of emotional resonance on Inroads. That's largely due to the crispness of the production job. Samoth was at his most comfortable burying soul-searing darkness in the crackling corners of early Emperor demos, and this highly compressed recording makes his guitar that much less expressive.

The way the songs function makes that almost a non-issue, though. Each of Inroads' nine songs plays as well blasted through car speakers with the windows down as on headphones. That's another advantage of The Wretched End's streamlined approach. For every Emperor song capable of spawning a philosophical debate, there's a song on Inroads capable of kicking philosophy in the teeth. It seems as though Samoth likes it that way.

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