Album Review: Crimson Moonlight – ‘Divine Darkness’

…I seriously was tempted to just say “Wow” with this album and leave it at that. Not because I think this album is bad and/or out of my depth to cover (although I will freely admit my limited exposure to extreme metal makes me unable to talk about this album in the same detail that I would be expected to), but because it actually impressed me so much that I was genuinely unsure that I could do it justice in a review. It’s a record that left me stunned for exactly the right reason: it was really far out of my comfort zone, yet it still held my interest for the whole run time without compromising what it stood for to appeal to me as someone who would normally pass over it and, through doing so, gave me a good appreciation for extreme metal that I hadn’t thought I was capable of having.

However, I do have to review Divine Darkness properly, so let’s take a few steps back and start answering the question that a lot of people may well be asking: “Who are Crimson Moonlight?”

Well, Crimson Moonlight are an extreme metal band from Sweden, with the original members being members of the Christian death/thrash metal band Obsecration. The band’s music originally started out as symphonic black metal, but they have since shifted towards a hybrid of death and black metal while still maintaining their Christian focused lyrics (yes, there are Christian black metal bands out there, believe it or not!). The band formed in 1997 for what was originally intended to be a one off thing, but they have since gone on to release two EPs (1998’s Eternal Emperor and 2007’s In Depths of Dreams Unconscious) and two previous studio albums (2003’s The Covenant Progress and 2004’s Veil of Remembrance). Aside from a single of one of the songs on this album that dropped in November 2014, this is the first that has been heard from the band since 2007 and is their first studio album in over a decade, arguably making this a comeback of sorts. The band’s lineup on this album is Pilgrim Bestiarius XII on vocal (oh yeah, for those not familiar with the genre: a lot of musicians connected to black metal tend to use stage names), Gustav Elowson on drums (as well as sourcing samples), Per Sundberg on guitar, bass and synth and Johan Wold Ylenstrand on guitar and bass.

So yeah, this is already interesting territory on a genre level. Sure, unblack metal isn’t exactly a new thing (it’s been around since the 90s) and neither is blackened death metal (again, it’s been around since the 90s), but you don’t usually get both of them combined together.

So why did this grab me, considering that I usually don’t tend to have a huge fondness for extreme metal in general? Well…it’s hard to explain, but I’ll do my best!

CrimsonMoonlight_DivineDarkness

For starters, this is a REALLY fast album when it picks up speed. Seriously, some of the album hits speeds that can make it almost impossible to keep track of what is happening if you let your attention wander. However, there’s still a sense of melody to it (not in the sense of the music being melodic, though) which makes it all surprisingly memorable, even when the brutality kicks in. Opener ‘The Dogma of Chalcedon’ showcases this pretty easily with some very interesting lead guitar playing that, while repeating a bit more than might be strictly necessary, gives you something to latch onto if you’re a relative newbie to the genre while still refusing to let up on the intensity. In essence, it’s the kind of thing that makes it simultaneously easy to enter as a newbie to the genre, but still doesn’t water the experience down for those already used to it because the intensity is VERY much intact. There are a few elements which take the intensity down a little bit (‘The Suffering’ ends on a piano outro, ‘Divine Darkness’ has an acoustic guitar section and ‘Voistinu Voskrese’ is a surprisingly calm instrumental), but they mostly serve as a brief respite from the rest of the album before it comes back to hit you even harder than it did when it let off, which serves to give the album some variety without necessarily becoming a gentle listening experience. Needless to say, the songwriting is top notch and handles all of it surprisingly well, with the only real problem being some repetition in the longer tracks which causes parts of the songs to drag a bit, although not enough to stop it from being enjoyable as a whole.

The performances on the record are pretty great, I have to say. I wouldn’t say anyone does anything that you won’t have heard before if you’re familiar with death metal or black metal, but I will give credit where it is due and Gustav REALLY deserves praise due to how insanely fast he can play his kit. Seriously, the guy plays some of the fastest drumming I’ve heard in my life, with some of the double bass drumming reaching speeds that are just jaw dropping to hear in action, to the extent that I was wondering how many kits he had to get through just to record a single song on the album! Pilgrim also does a great job, mostly sticking with a higher ranged shriek, but also pulling off some lower screams that offers some variety. I will admit that I had to use the liner notes to understand what he was actually singing, but I imagine those already used to listening to extreme metal shouldn’t find him too difficult to understand.

Speaking of which, a minor digression: the liner notes for this album are actually really good! I’m normally used to not getting liner notes with promo copies of albums, so I was actually really pleasantly surprised to have received them this time and, while I will admit that I’ve seen more elaborate liner notes in the recent past (Act of Defiance’s liner notes had a lot more artwork in it, although having Travis Smith doing stuff for you probably warrants you to use him for the whole thing!), I do think that the liner notes in general are excellent here, fitting what the band are going for nicely. Seriously, credit is deserved for the hard work on the liner notes: in this day and age, when so many seem to treat them as an afterthought, it’s refreshing to see effort put into the liner notes of an album!

Anyway, moving back to the record, I have to say that the production is the only real stumbling block for me, and it’s for the reason that I imagine long time readers will already have guessed I’d be commenting on: the mastering. I get that the point of extreme metal is to sound harsh and abrasive, so, in that aspect, you could argue fairly that extremely loud mastering is justified, but part of the appeal of old fashioned death metal was that the rawness came from fairly cheap production and NOT from a loud mastering job, which means that the mastering helps it to succeed in capturing the rawness, but is also painful on the ears if you’re aware of the loud volume mastering practices of modern music and actively want to try to avoid damaging your ears.

Still, factoring that complaint out, there’s nothing really to complain about: the instruments sound great in the mix, the mix is pretty good overall (could have done with a bit more bass, but still a solid job overall) and, for all my complaining about the mastering, I will concede that it does actually work to the record’s advantage in that the band’s style of music is intended to feel like a difficult listen to those not used to it, so I will admit that I can see the appeal behind it here. Doesn’t mean I like it, but I can see why it’s been done and it’s a valid enough reason that I can’t get too mad over it.

So, overall…well, I will admit that I’ve been developing a bit more of a taste for death metal recently, so I will say that this is probably not something to approach if you aren’t a metal fan without at least an appreciation for death metal or black metal. However, if you do like either subgenre of metal and you’re not opposed to Christian lyrics in metal (although, frankly, I couldn’t really tell that the lyrics were by a Christian band when I checked through them, so they’re at least subtle about it compared to, say, Stryper), then this is really worth a shot. It seriously has a lot going for it and, while I don’t think it’s going to be my album of the year, it is certainly a very good extreme metal record that I can see a lot of extreme metal fans really enjoying!

Divine Darkness will be released on the 26th of February by Endtime Productions. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.

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