Album Review: TAAKE/DEATHCULT - Jaertegn (Split EP)
Genre: Black Metal
Review by Patrick Næss
Taake are one of the more well-known black metal bands in the Norwegian scene for various reasons. They have always had a decently melodic approach to their music, and with later albums they have also brought in elements of black n roll. Their last full length was back in 2017 with “Kong Vinter”, this was their 7th full length release, completing the "7-fjell Trilogi" that frontman, Hoest, set out for himself. After "Kong Vinter" the band has only released one split album "Pakt" with Whoredom Rife. In between their full lengths they have also released many EP`s featuring some new songs and often covers. This brings us to this new split with the cruel Norwegian black metal band known as Deathcult. The split features one new single from each band, as well as one cover each from some true heavyweights of the genre, Darkthrone and Beherit respectively. Hoest is no stranger to Deathcult, as he does play Bass in the band, a role he fills on this split album as well, pulling double duty for both Taake and Deathcult. Deathcult have two full lengths under their belt prior to this release, and are not to be underestimated, their debut "Cult of the Dragon" was met with much appraisal in the underground circles.
The first thing one will notice on Taake`s side of this EP is already very apparent on the first track "Slagmark". This is not Kong Vinter, this does not sound like a Kong Vinter B Side. The production on this track is far rawer than most of Taakes output the last 10 years at the very least. Hoest`s vocals also sound much more vicious and spiteful than your standard Taake performance, it’s like he spews every line with pure venom. The rawer production adds to and complements this approach. Other than that "Slagmark" is Taake, sounding like Taake, which means that the signature guitar tone that appears in the majority of the Taake discography all the way from Nattestid is present as well as some acoustic guitar interludes, and lots of groove. Taake sounding like Taake means that bits of the track could easily be compared to earlier cuts of their discog. This would not be a particularly Standout track in the Taake discography if it wasn’t for its rawer production.
Speaking of standout tracks, covers are a difficult topic. It is difficult to do justice to a song made by an absolute juggernaut of a genre while still trying to make your take on it stand out. One approach is to make your cover so different that it becomes its own entity, a different song entirely. The other more typical approach is replicating the original, while making little tweaks here and there. Taake chose the latter on their cover of “Ravnajuv”. The most obvious tweak is that every single element is louder in the mix. Darkthrone`s original, sounds like Darkthrone, the way everything is lower in the mix, is the sound most Darkthrone songs of that particular era had. The first half of Taake`s cover sounds like Darkthrone, and then slowly the classic sonic elements of Taake start to bleed through here and there. For the most part the song is Hoest doing a Nocturno Culto impression in his own native Bergen dialect. However while the original "Ravnajuv" kind of just, ends, Taake`s cover adds some synth for a more smooth ending. Doing a Darkthrone cover, sounding like Darkthrone, is perfectly fine, it is not lazy. When judging covers the main question i always ask myself is, did it do the original justice? Yes, yes i would say it did. It’s not ground-breaking, if you know the original you already know the riffs, you know the song, this cover will not replace the original. Covers aren’t meant to replace the original. But it did a good job of reintroducing people to an underrated classic in the modern era.
Deathcult. With a name like Deathcult you already know what these guys are bringing. Raw, ferocious Black metal. They don’t call themselves "Cruel Norwegian Black metal" for nothing. Deathcult’s music is vicious and cruel. The riffs of their first offering on this EP "Der Würger" (The strangler) brings you straight back to the church burning glory days of the genre. Vocals are standard BM fare rasps, occasionally layered for a kind of echo effect. Rasps are perfectly fine, BM never wanted or needed to be anything extraordinary in terms of vocals, but the layering does help keep it from growing stale. Like Taake, Deathcult have their groovier moments, some of the riffs later in the track sound like straight up Black n roll. The Drums noticeably stay in the same pattern and rhythm for almost the entire song, except for moments where, like the guitars, they end up sounding more groove oriented. It should probably be illegal (it probably is) to say that a band with a name like Deathcult, have a safe approach to anything, but in terms of their sound, their approach could be called safe. They have the classic Black metal sound. This is Black metal, plain and simple, you have your rasps, you have your tremolo riffs, you have your blast beats, it’s all there. The Black n roll elements are what make them stand out. The chorus is also very catchy, which is almost a signature element of Deathcult songs, their choruses are very memorable, you could find yourself humming them at your next local satanic karaoke night.
The song that Deathcult chose to cover however, is anything but safe. Beherit should not be a new name to any fan of the genre, but the short version is that Beherit set out to make the most primitive hellish Black metal that you can imagine, and then Deathcult just decided that on their cover of the song "Black Arts" they would just, make it even more primitive and hellish. People that are new to Black metal, might complain that they can’t tell what Nocturno Culto is singing, and most fans will say that with time you will learn to decipher the vocals. But not in a million years will you be able to tell what Deathcult conjured on this cover. The vocals on the original song already sound like some wheezing ghoul, but somehow Deathcult upped the ante. The vocals sound like a vicious dog. A vicious dying dog, on fire, from hell. Throughout the song there are just bellowing growls and snarls, like some demon is standing there, spewing out the "lyrics" of the song. It helps that, like Taake`s Darkthrone cover, every single element of the song is louder in the mix on the cover, even the odd whispering (Which IMO just sounded cheesy on the original). The instrumental work on both the original and the cover isn’t much to write home about, there is one set of riffs and one drum pattern repeated through the entire song, admittedly the riff is pretty catchy. The intro of the song is an omen of what’s to come, you hear the crackling of fire, ritualistic chanting and what comes next is straight out of hell. I am not the biggest Beherit fan, so there is some clear bias when i say that, I prefer Deathcult`s cover over the original, it took every single primitive element of Black arts and pushed them to eleven.
EP's and splits can quickly fall victim to being accused of just being placeholders, something to put out there until the bands participating have their next full length ready for release. However in this case the future of one of the bands in question is uncertain, we are not sure if we will actually get another Taake full length album. Hoest has fulfilled his vision of 7 albums for 7 mountains, Taake might continue its existence participating in splits in the same format as Pakt for the forseeable future. We simply do not know. Deathcult on the other hand are presumably close to releasing their third full length album, they haven’t shown any sign of stopping. If this showing was a preview of the quality of Deathcult material to come, i am very hopeful for the future of the project. Taake's side of the split is, again, Standard Taake fare, and a cover, which is fine. It should be fine having and managing to stick to an established signature sound, it is admirable in its own way. Taake do not have a major misstep in their discography so far, (even though many would argue Stridens Hus was) and this Split continues that tradition. The main issue i had with the split EP is that it didn’t really function as a cohesive full piece of work, the covers create awkward breaks in between the two singles from the bands, and the songs don’t relate to each other theme wise either, it’s very much a case of Taake`s side of the story and then Deathcult`s side. However, Splits don’t necessarily need cohesion to be good, the need for cohesion is just a personal preference. All 4 tracks are solid, the Beherit cover being particularly standout, and overall the EP is definitely not a blight in either of the bands catalogues of music. So in the end, how it functions together might not be that important. "Jaertegn" is a great EP. 2 great covers, 2 tracks that make you want more, all we can do is hope for another Taake full length, and patiently wait for one from Deathcult.
Jaertegn will be available July 10th via EDGED CIRCLE PRODUCTIONS.
First track is now premiered through our Bandcamp page here, as well as pre-orders: https://edgedcircleproductions.bandcamp.com/album/jaertegn