Classic Albums: Dissection – Reinkaos

The constant hype train is the most tiresome aspect of music journalism. Every year, a handful of albums are widely hailed to be the best thing you’ve ever heard. And that’s fine. But after another few years, these records rarely possess the staying power that all the critics had suggested. They fade away into obscurity, all but forgotten, while the hordes of writers, blogs and publications desperately scrabble around for the next flavour of the week. In a bid to stem our frustration, LURKER will occasionally be forced to celebrate our favourite classic albums, records that have stood the test of time and will continue to do so. In the first of these columns, we launch into a defence of the occult mysteries lurking beneath Dissection’s much-maligned Reinkaos…

Fans of extreme metal are by nature prone to a certain world view, one that sets us apart from those who consume the product of other genres. Our tendency is towards the analytical. How many times have we debated, verbosely, the minutiae of a release? Thrashed out the issues over every note, lyric and movement of a record that is ostensibly about raping Christ and praising Satan? The question is rhetorical, but if it wasn’t the answer would be “too many!” Where does this desire to understand and interpret come from? Is it an inherent function of the music, or an inherent part of us as the extreme metal audience?

From my own position, I have always been fascinated by the occult for the same reasons that I’m fascinated with extreme music. The desire to understand something symbolic, to process, learn from and unlock the secret to something preternatural. As a black metal fan, I am most satisfied with output that has a natural affinity towards this world view, and that intersection between the musically intriguing and the metaphysically compelling has never been more apparent than on what I would defend aggressively as one of the best extreme metal releases of all time, Dissection’s much-maligned Reinkaos.

There’s no need to dwell on context, as everyone reading this publication will at least be aware of the Dissection narrative. I choose instead to focus on what makes this such a compelling record, and why it is well worth your time to revisit it.

The critique has always focused on why Reinkaos wasn’t a return to form, why it didn’t live up to expectations and why earlier material is so much better. This view fails to account for what made Dissection such a powerful force in the first place, and why Reinkaos is a distillation of this essence, not a dilution. My contention is that this argument approaches the album in the wrong way. Dissection was never about orthodoxy, after all they were one of the first to mix black and death metal in a distinct rebuttal to the genre tyranny of the early 90s scene. No, Dissection was all about philosophy. They were a channelling of something pure, sinister and genuine. Time has exposed the Satanic posturing of the Norwegian scene as nothing but farce, but for Dissection there was a legitimacy that would lead them to the only possible conclusion. If you want to talk about sincerity within black metal, then talk about Dissection.

The reality, then, is that as much as Reinkaos was a musical departure from previous work, it was the logical progression and indeed conclusion of the Dissection project, and stands alone as one of the most powerful works created under the extreme metal banner. Arguably, it is a transcendental work that, while using metal as a platform, goes far beyond being just another album. Instead it was a totemic work of art that anyone attuned to the energies that black metal claims to represent will feel a deep affinity for.

So why so much praise? First of all, let’s address the instrumental aspects of the work. No, the frozen tones and sinister riffs of the past are not present, but is what has replaced them any weaker? No. Guitars, drums and bass act in unison to create a legitimate power. There is a martial element to the record that serves to underline the theology at the core of this record. Far from lacking in riffs, what Nödtveidt has done is extrapolated this martial essence to create a unifying musicality, which is but one aspect of what raises Reinkaos above the norm.

From the opening strains of ‘Beyond the Horizon’ to the closing victory dance of ‘Maha Kali’, the instrumentation is evidence of a musician with a vision. Rather than focussing on a lack of “memorable” riffs, we should reflect on what makes the better artist – one who can create a handful of riffs that they can make the centrepiece of some otherwise unremarkable songs, or one who can recognise the need for restraint. Nödtveidt understands that theme, timbre, texture and cadence are the strength behind strong song-writing, not simply being able to deconstruct a chord.

That said, it is not the guitar, bass or drum work that defines this album. It has been said that Reinkaos is not simply an album, but a grimoire set to music. This is absolutely true, and why Reinkaos goes beyond the sum of its parts. The thematic context is Gnostic-Satanic theology, a belief system that would take multiple essays to explain. Suffice to say that the entire work is a dedication to the gods of the Left-hand Path, and a symbolic cipher that unlocks this complex spirituality. Simply put, Reinkaos is a legitimate work of magick. The lyrics are coded lessons, instructed in the same way as any great occult-philosophical author would transmit their wisdom. The numerous invocations included within various songs are more than just posturing, but necessary to cause fundamental change in the perception of the listener and open their minds to receive what is being offered.

Of course, one doesn’t have to absorb the record in this way, but my challenge then would be why bother with this genre at all? If we deny any level of inquisition, then what sets our niche apart from any other? The vast majority of music genres, even within metal in the broader sense, are replete with surface-level appeal. We like 4/4 beats and major-key harmonies because we are instinctively and biologically pre-programmed to do so. Reinkaos is a test, and one that should force anyone who claims to be into these genres to question what they’re here for. This is the real thing, genuine Satanic energies being invoked and transmitted through music. It’s easy to play at this, to wear the t-shirts and namecheck the necessary bands, but an album such as this confronts the unworthy with an uncomfortable question. Are you for real, and do you see beyond the surface, or is this just another form of entertainment to you?

Extreme metal isn’t about being a caricature. It doesn’t involve wearing corpse paint to gigs and changing your name to KriegsTrooper SvartFuck and the over-compensation that we see in our scene is typical of people who have, for want of a better analogy, bitten off more than they can chew.

We can’t spend our lives subsumed in darkness, and those who do so are mentally ill, not “more true”. As rational, rationalising fans of a genre which explores internal and extrenal darkness, however, we should be able to look into ourselves and analyse what we find with the same attention that we use to analyse the latest scene release. Whether this inner darkness is symbolic or part of some sinister extra-terrestrial force, Reinkaos stands alone as being the greatest representation of this that I have ever heard. It transcends metal and transcends music to become a genuine pathway towards understanding this microcosmic/macrocosmic duality. It stands alone, therefore, as the pinnacle of Dissection’s creativity, and when you understand its symbolism and what it has brought into the world, the legacy of Dissection will become clear.

12 Comments

  • Reply April 23, 2012

    Pavel

    bravo, John! i couldn’t agree more with your defense of the album, and your focus on its occult depth has encouraged me to take a more careful look at the lyrics. two things to add, not because you “missed” them but just because these are things I’ve been wanting to say anyway:

    1. Not only does Reinkaos represent the end of Dissection’s march down the left-hand path, it also shows them becoming the mighty, anthemic Heavy Metal band they always were underneath the surface. I would say that most Second Wave BM, especially the early Norwegian stuff, wasn’t wasn’t really Metal in any meaningful sense of the word. What set Dissection apart was the fact that they partook equally in the legacies of Mayhem AND Maiden. So Reinkaos is just where they reveal what they were always doing in one way or another.

    2. It’s really a vocal album — Jon’s ripping vox are at the center of its power, and play a really important part in creating all those rock-ish hooks. The lyrics themselves are awesome and really memorable, and he’s taken so much care to enunciate clearly.

    3. JORMUNDGAND, LORD OF THE POISON SEA, FULFILL THE TWILIGHT PROPHECY!!

  • Reply April 23, 2012

    John

    I concur aggressively on all points.

    Lylusay Tateros Volt Sids Lucifer!

  • Reply April 24, 2012

    Billy

    I was very excited at the time of the album’s release, only to be monumentally let down by an album which I felt to be very hollow. I’ve revisited it several times over the years, and again now, hoping that I’d find the spark which makes so many view it as a masterpiece, but I really can’t.

    There are no doubts as to Nodtveidt’s abilities as a songwriter, powerful vocalist and talented lead guitarist, but I can’t help feel that this album aimed towards something which it failed to capture.

    What I find, conversely to this article, is that the material IS replete with surface-level appeal; the meters are regular, the riffs are from tried and tested lineage, and the production, whilst powerful, doesn’t have any frisson to it. Accordingly, the music is reduced to a pop-rock level, which doesn’t befit the depth or nature of the themes.

    Both the previous albums expressed the ‘legacies of Mayhem and Maiden’, to quote Pavel, in a much more expressive and unique way, packed with memorable melodies and choruses and a fury and fire which is sadly lacking on Reinkaos. The material here really is (to use a well-worn cliche) akin to In Flames – there are parts which really remind me of what I didn’t like about Whoracle – the move away from more folkish and intricate material into stadiumisation.

    The lyrical side of the record is interesting, but Jon’s lyrics on the previous albums covered similar topics in a much more interesting and less obvious way – Reinkaos lyrics do read like a grimoire, but a virtual list of Tiamat, Leviathan, etc. etc. does not make for good lyrics which can be interpreted in a number of ways. I don’t feel either the depth of his thought is that inaccessble, given similarities I perceive to Schopenhauer’s philosophy.

    One might argue that this misses the point, and that Dissection intended to make an album which was more regular, would speak Jon’s message in a more straightforward way, and which exposed them to more people; that’s fine, but cloaking such sinister themes in such regular arrangements is not an effective or appropriate way of transmuting them.

    Whether the record is good or not might seem like a matter of opinion, but when something seems such a misalignment of subject matter and form of expression it really must stand as a failure.

  • Reply April 24, 2012

    Billy

    Addendum: I’m not a massive fan of their reviews, but this piece from Anus.com about SotLB sums up what that album captures and Reinkaos misses.

    “Brainwave tendencies of sloping melodies move like rock n roll and this music repeats too often the idiosyncrasies of that genre, yet the vocals carry rasping not toneless melodies disembodied through the waves of music, richly harmonic and subversively rhythmic in an exacting evil dissonance rather than the sleazy nihilistic apathy of rockstar gluttony. Melodramatic, melancholic, dark music emanates emotional beauty with sad interlocking melodies speaking an essence of epic mental sensation through fantasy, metaphoric gateway to the artistic content inspired by this release in the listener.

    What first seems happy sad rock music turns poignantly evil as it inverts and enunciates a recursing serpentine despair in virulent and corrupted voices as if through the distorted transmission of a sick comic radio script reporting the apocalypse…The first Dissection album may be a clearer vision of this band, but this release is sleeker with a more warlike dedication to functionality within art. As if brushed steel this is malevolent but musical metal, created by the masters of several styles. “

  • Reply April 24, 2012

    Richard

    Anus.com is wank.

  • Reply April 24, 2012

    Nick

    I think there’s a lot of over-complication going on here, giving the music that we’re dealing with.

    The occult themes are certainly more pronounced than in their earlier efforts, but they’re stripped of the intensity from which I derive a sense of integrity; consider something like Ascension’s Consolamentum and there’s a fervour to it, a fervour that’s lacking from Reinkaos. I don’t think Consolamentum is a particularly good album, but there’s a palpable sense of malice straining to break free – and that sense is sadly missing from the spit’n’polish production on offer here.

    That’s not to say it’s a poor album; just that, even if it is the vehicle for a message, it’s a vehicle in desperate need of a service. It’s got its moments, for sure – I love the (what I assume are) ancient languages (Tohu Tehom Theli Than Leviathan Tanin’iver Taninsam!), and I get a big ol’ kick out of the fist-pumping moments, but it never reaches the depths of darkness that I deem integral to a truly occult work of black metal art. There’s a pervading, sinister atmosphere – a tangibly murderous intent – to a song like ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’ that is simply not replicated on Reinkaos, and it’s to the album’s detriment. By comparison, it seems somewhat neutered.

    But, as I say, that doesn’t make it a bad album. It’s just one that I can’t take particularly seriously. It sounds to me like a man that’s lost his fire for the music and is trying to drive forward a message by throwing in loads of catchy riffs and leads – not the best vehicles for doing so, but happily, they do make for a giggle or two.

    I guess I’d say the same thing about Ofermod, actually. Tiamtu can’t hold a candle to Mysterion Tes Anomias; perhaps something goes on in Swedish prisons…

  • Reply May 1, 2012

    Gallo

    Harmonics and some rhythmic traits are so familiar with those of Rotting Christ that it would make Thy Mighty Contract a much more meaningful listen…and it was recorded like 11 years prior…

  • Reply May 7, 2012

    Aaron

    I have been defending/discussing Reinkaos since it came out, so I was real happy to see this.

  • Reply August 1, 2012

    bigtrev

    lol @ this utter dross being mentioned in the same breath as classic. Tepid on every level.

    • Reply August 3, 2012

      Richard

      Haha, Trev, you’re right that “classic” is perhaps not the right name for this kind of column. We need a name for when we want to talk about albums that aren’t current. But yeah, not classic.

  • Reply April 4, 2013

    Fritzel

    ´tis shite. Music and lyrics both.

  • Reply April 22, 2014

    Black Hawk

    One of my favourite albums. The lyrics and vocals are really what stand out here. You can just feel the passion coming through his voice. So fucking unholy and righteously sinister. Everything about Dissection is great.

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