Deathspell Omega is the most relevant band in black metal. This is non-negotiable. They have received as much criticism as praise for their challenging take on the genre but remain untouchable and transcendent.
Even from their earliest incarnation, despite adding up to little more than your regular Darkthrone-worshipping horde, there was still something starkly pertinent on their first two full-lengths, Infernal Battles and Inquisitors of Satan. A bold and uncompromising ideology lifted them from the ranks of dross apparent in the stagnation of late 90s black metal and with a brutal take on Satanism that bordered on religious fervour, Deathspell Omega plucked a cultish following from metal fans across the world, dissatisfied with the commercial decadence and pantomime that much of the Second Wave would inevitably fall into.
Musically, the infantile stages of Deathspell Omega were fraught with clichés and an unwavering dedication to how the mysterious members believed their black metal should sound. But regardless, they remain vital documents on the development of the band. A sinister but uplifting sense of melody and an honest conviction permeated much of this early work as glimpses of brilliance between the blasts of raw noise and base recording ethos. It was a sign of things to come that many noticed and held on to.
Early interviews with the band, like this one with Northern Heritage   (view the rest of the issue here), show a group of individuals with such a horrific philosophy and outlook on existence that, surely, this was black metal canon for the 21st century. But it would be some time before the band would break free of the shackles that bound the elitist black metal underground. The questions themselves never really transcend the low-brow metalhead concerns of what was ‘trendy’ or what was ‘true’ within the scene’s landscape at the time. Take this quote from the band, detailing their early interpretation of Satanism:
“Satanism is to feel pleasure when you see living beings suffer, bleed and die. Satan has its manifestations in deadly diseases, civil wars and rapes. All that destroys the human dignity, that reduces humans to what they are: worthless pieces of meat. Every time we see suffering, we’re pleased. We’re the adversary of Life. Once you’ve tasted the real essence of Satanism, you can’t quit anymore, as there is nothing after Satanism, it’s the ultimate ideology. There is no room for evolution anymore: the Satanist is the only being that has the strength to face the Truth and the Honour to become one of the executioners of the fate of Life. Face it fucking weaklings: everything is doomed, you can resist for a while, but you will never win…”
Typical shock-rock tactics? Or a philosophy steeped in allegory and consumed by a burning hatred for humanity? There are certainly some home truths in there, as the band also point out when asked the origins of their name, that the achievements of humanity are meaningless in the face of eternity: “Deathspell Omega is a reference to our ideology. Just imagine the last moments of the universe, just before it will collapse. The final spell cast by Satan. Everything disappears in the ultimate void.”
Who knows? What is certain is that a band with such an encompassing and forceful vision would not survive long under the scrutiny of meathead black metal fans. Indeed there was a landmark shift in the band’s make-up four years after this interview: a supposed line-up change and the departure of vocalist Shaxul due to ‘growing orthodox Satanism elements’. This is only conjecture but interviews with Shaxul since (like this one) seem to agree. He places emphasis on the use of Satan within black metal as a tool and symbol only and denies any use of following religion other than that of the Self. He remains tight-lipped and uninterested in the band’s progression since then.
The shift in focus for Deathspell Omega was first identifiable in this interview with the AJNA Offensive, intended to prepare the world for the band’s forthcoming album, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. The narrative is entirely different; maybe someone else had taken the role of spokesperson for the band. Maybe not. Well-spoken answers that reference art, intellectuals, philosophy and theology respond, without the ridiculous aggression and thuggish jaunts of earlier discourse. It was when this spokesperson discussed the aforementioned album as the first part of a conceptual trilogy that all the attention the band had gathered before intensified:
“It took us over two years to conceive “SMRC”, actually about three years if we speak about the global concept of which this album is only the first part out of three. Before writing a single note of music, a foetal structure of the lyrical aspect has to appear clearly, because the origin of our inspiration communicates – or shall I say imposes? – through intellectual concepts first and foremost, sensorial elements are subordinated. Of course, this initial structure is bound to grow, to be mutilated or enhanced during the actual work, but this is the starting point that later on guides the creation of the musical support. At the moment of this interview, a superficial yet extremely furnished density of written word is available as the chaotic skeleton of the second part of the trilogy, and actually, some semen for the third and last part are available, too. A lot of discipline will be required to shape this material into something that will allow us to start the purely musical work, although some sketches have already been tested, some patterns of which have turned out to be satisfying, others not quite in communion with the rest, thus, discarded.
“As you may imagine, we will furthermore enter the dimensions of theological uncertainty, and the resulting, ever growing ecstatic anguish may very well materialize itself in a musical form quite different again. It is way too early to predict anything though; realistically, the second part will certainly not be finalised before a couple of years. It may be accurate to underline that the music being subordinated to the global intellectual impulses, the Black Metal genre is not the only shape it may take.”
Reading these words at this stage gives them a fresh urgency and meaning. Obviously it had become clear that Deathspell Omega were meant for far greater things than what was achieved during its gestation. A trilogy that would explore a metaphysical idea of Satan and its relation to man and God, pursuit of the ‘deus ignotum’ (Unknown God) and what appeared to be an incredibly sophisticated approach to their music were all previously unheard of within black metal and heavy metal as a whole. Looking back, it was enthralling to follow, research and explore; to attempt to seek the deeper meaning beneath what was clearly an intensely personal project by some very driven individuals.
The first time hearing those eerie guitar notes of SRMC’s ‘First Prayer’ is a moment few ever forget. The album is a divinely inspired exploration of black metal that wiped the slate clean of the mediocrity that had infested the scene up to that point and a veritable leap forward for the genre. Never before had an energy so utterly infernal been channelled so adeptly by a group of human beings. Evidently, the years of preparation and meditation on their chosen subject matter had paid off. Could we as music fans truly grasp what was being examined here? It is unlikely, but the music was of such a gripping and challenging level that it felt as though it was touching upon something entirely new and dangerous. The closest black metal had ever been to a genuinely religious experience.
An appendix to SRMC in the form of the EP Kénôse followed, expanding the textures and approach of Deathspell’s sonic terrorism. Even more twisted, unorthodox and progressive, this three track release left fans scratching their heads as to what their new favourite metal band could possibly do to push forward their ideology for the second part of the trilogy. A couple of years later all was revealed with the completion of Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum.
It was a foul and ugly dark horse of an album. If SRMC had been an examination of man’s relation to divinity, Fas was Satan’s. With haunting cover art depicting The Fall, Fas hurled itself into gnarled and rambunctious avant-garde metal that had the black metal ‘community’ up in arms. The debates that consequently burned marred the experience considerably. Small-minded people seemed to think that asking ‘Yeah, but is it black metal?’ mattered even in the slightest. We’ve already accepted that Deathspell Omega broke free of this stigma long before Fas was released. And referring back to the AJNA interview, the band themselves said their trilogy would not be strictly reserved for this most limited of art forms. Technical, brutal and uncompromising, Fas was what black metal should always be: terrifying to behold.
Fast-forward a few years and Deathspell Omega have released many compilations, splits and EPs to tide over their faithful acolytes during the final years of meditation. So we were taken by surprise when the final part of the trilogy was announced for release this year.
Paracletus is the crowning achievement of this unholy triumvirate. It also logically had to be. With each step into this mammoth project, the band has improved boundlessly. While SRMC was a relatively straight-forward and incredibly well-honed step into the trilogy, Fas was defiant, uncontrollable and chaotic. Now, with Paracletus, Deathspell Omega have pinned down their incredibly complex song writing style: Nothing sounds out of place or throw-away. Every blasting second, every drum strike, every discordant or melodic guitar phrase, every obombrous bassline (yes, there is BASS here)… All are disturbingly calculated to the finest detail, conjuring a cacophony that is simply unprecedented.
But as explored above, the discerning listener and true follower of Deathspell Omega must also immerse themselves in what the album means. To pay no heed to the ideology behind these forceful visions is to miss the point entirely. I will avoid direct interpretations but instead give some pointers that may help with your understanding of the record when it is released in the next couple of days. The album is thick with archaic religious imagery, as we have all come to expect:
• Paracletus – This is from the Greek ‘parāclītus’ which means advocate, defender or comforter. In the Gnostic tradition, the various emanations of the Monad or Godhead (not the ‘demiurge’ who is widely identified as the Semitic god) had different roles. Paracletus, the comforter, is one of these emanations. The album is far from a comforting experience however.
• Epiklesis – Another Ancient Greek word in need of translation. There are two songs on the album with this title, both with a repetitive mantra of a riff. In terms of Christianity, it is ‘the part of the Catholic mass in which the celebrant invokes the Holy Spirit to bless the participants,’ an invocation or ‘calling something down from high’.
The album is introduced by one of these foul invocations: ‘Come, Thou Sanctifier, almighty and eternal God, and bless this sacrifice prepared for the glory of Thy Holy Name.’ It’s a chilling pandemonium of an opening track; short and sharp yet restrained and repetitive. But with second track ‘Wings of Predation’, the familiar, almost-death-metal assault of the Fas-era rears its head again, yet more focussed and malignant than ever. Hectic blasting trades off with moments of pure beauty and clarity. A bizarre melody winds its way in to the song that sounds unlike anything you have EVER heard before.
What quickly becomes apparent with Paracletus is that elements from all their second phase work have been coalesced into one body. Deathspell continue to invert the tonal atmosphere of Gregorian chants that was explored on SRMC with a unique and startling melodicism. This is constantly threatened, however, by the sheer aggression that ploughs through the entirety of the album. Sections of Fas-like chaos and repulsive riffing rape and pillage at any given opportunity, but often give way into incredibly rewarding pieces of music. It is this dichotomy that makes the record such a thrilling journey.
The pace of the album is strictly monitored and flows beautifully. The toned-down drudgery of ‘Dearth’ is a welcome refuge from the cumulative ten minute assault that Deathspell inflicts through ‘Wings of Predation’ and the inhuman guitar playing of ‘Abscission’. A spoken-word French verse weaves itself through the slow, mournful riff: “La mince clameur de ces etres iniques et inabsous. Plearant a la sortie du monde. Se perd dans ce royaume d’effroi et de cendres. Sinistre Abscission…Et la solitude du jardin de Gethsémani en partage!” It’s a delicate and thoughtful piece of music that works well with the French, a language that has been neglected by the band until Paracletus, despite being their mother tongue.
Following that is ‘Phosphene’, hands down the most brutal track on the album. As the longest song, it forms the centrepiece of Paracletus. Pummelling bass-led sections, terrifying vocals and an odd rhythmic structure form its basis. Another first for Deathspell is the inclusion of haggard sung vocals. It is not overwrought nor does it sound out of place. This is the Omega at their most virulent and best.
‘Epiklesis II’ works as a fantastic segue. It’s similar to its introductory counterpart, yet more restrained and pensive. From these tentative notes, it is straight in to the deep end with ‘Malconfort’, a French word that echoes the uneasy atmosphere of the song. Thrashy power chords meet with the signature Deathspell Omega arpeggios and angular riffing. Another hefty bass-led riff brings the track to its conclusion, with delicate discordant guitars darting around the upper frequencies.
The shortest proper track on the album, ‘Have You Beheld the Fever’ is a feverish and delirious assault on the senses. A driving rhythm section underpins completely insane guitar work. It is mind-boggling as to how far the members of Deathspell Omega have managed to push their instruments. Not only have they set a new precedent for black metal, but they have also redrawn the boundaries for extremity as a whole and the entire approach to avant-garde guitar. The imagination and inspiration that is driven into these songs is otherworldly, bewildering and wholly satisfying.
As the album draws nearer to its end and begins to conclude the trilogy, there are absolutely no signs of the band letting up its compositional skills. ‘Devouring Famine’ sounds like the howling of an unsavoury demiurge as its creation revolts against all its obvious imperfections. Closer ‘Apokatastasis Panton’ reprises the magnificent guitar work displayed on ‘Epiklesis II’, building it into a fuller song and perhaps the most directly ‘black metal’ track of the album. Driving, straight-forward rhythms form the attack here with not a spazzy, jazz-infused time signature in sight. Melodic tremolos seem to hark back Deathspell’s earlier forms. Appropriate perhaps as ‘apokatastasis’ seems to root from the Greek for ‘reconstitution, restitution or restoration to the original or primordial condition’.
Then silence. It is over. The trilogy has come full circle and Deathspell Omega have completed their masterwork after six years of labour. Paracletus explores so many horrifying vistas and glimpses into the unknown that you will feel completely drained. But rest assured, that will not stop you from spinning the album constantly on repeat. Engage and imbibe Deathspell’s esoteric majesty because it does not get any better than this. They are a band of OUR generation and one that will go down in history for revolutionising music whether they like it or not. No longer can anachronistic idiots hail the Norwegian Second Wave like it has never been bettered. It has been topped numerous times since and Deathspell Omega have finally nailed the coffin shut.