Sunday, 21 November 2010

1349 - Liberation (2003) 65/100.

It’s safe to say most people are drawn to 1349 by notable black metal drummer, Frost, a musician who has performed for many tops names across Scandinavia for years, including the likes of Gehenna, Gorgoroth and Keep of Kalessin. I, on the other hand, came across 1349’s debut full-length, entitled ‘Liberation’, many years ago by chance. I had no prior knowledge of their line-up, so Frost’s inclusion played no part in my listening to this album. In fact, even if I had know, I doubt it would have made much of an impact on my decision because I’m not terribly keen on any of the aforementioned bands. 1349 inhabit a type of sound I’ve never really been too keen on either, but somehow this album works. Maybe it’s the catchiness of some of its songs or the demonised, mystical feel? Perhaps even both. Either way 1349 somehow manage to steal away a bit of my heart and keep it for themselves which is precisely the reason I find myself drawn back into this claustrophobic, uncaring world time and again, even years after I first discovered it. ‘Liberation’, I find, is a bit of an odd title for this second wave inspired album.

It doesn’t represent much of a departure from the sound that circulated around the time of the second wave, a movement which had long since died at the time of this albums release in 2003. In fact, the approach is precisely what I would expect from musicians such as Frost, one’s whose influence and inspiration is firmly rooted in the early to mid 1990’s. Therefore this album doesn’t ever come across as innovative or original, though I suppose it isn’t meant to. However, does that mean we should just settle for the end results? I don’t think so, personally. Whilst the vision behind this album is pretty much perfected, the end result is still somewhat disappointing. Yes, 1349 are adept at creating crushing atmospherics and are very well equipped with their line-up to be able to produce moments akin to that of the second wave, as shown from the very first song ‘Manifest’, but is it enough? Not really. The song writing is generally affective and well considered but there are elements which need work. It would appear that this aspect of 1349 has never truly been resolved. I’ve only heard their first two albums and those appear to be the best, going by the reviews.

It’s far too easy in this day and age to ridicule bands and label them as “clones”, so 1349 deserve some credit for avoiding this troublesome description by managing to sound fresh, to an extent, and worthwhile despite the fact that the second wave has long since departed for hell. This album is a strange one in some ways because, yes, whilst it does succeed at creating a desirable atmosphere for its type, it simultaneously manages to undermine itself by being too eager to please the old school fans. By this I mean that certain elements of the album are almost lost as an influence by the desire to create a truly crushing atmosphere built on aggression and overwhelming distortion. Given Frost’s appeal on the black metal scene, it isn’t entirely surprising that his performance on ‘Liberation’ is highlighted at every turn. On the better songs on this album, such as ‘Manifest’ and the masterful self-titled song, the drums are practically made the be-all-and-end-all of 1349’s approach. The double bass, for example, is too prominent and crisp sounding.

Some might find this rather refreshing given albums of this nature have a tendency to obscure almost all aspects bar the guitars and vocals, but I enjoy that. I love having to claw my way through the dirt and grime to find the bass and inner workings of the drums. ‘Liberation’, as an album, tends to prioritise the wrong elements for me and, yes, whilst Frost is a damned good drummer, the albums success isn’t determined by the drumming but by the riffs and how well the bass can back that up. On occasion, this archaic approach is achieved well, as on songs like ‘Liberation’ where the bass audibly bounces along and the guitars create truly mesmerising riffs but, on most occasions, the songs tend to blend together in a haze of mediocrity and an unflinching desire to stick to its guns despite the fact that it may not be the best approach. The production, which is incredibly detailed, is great. It gives much of the album a bombastic feel but isn’t afraid to embrace the claustrophobia and tormented soul of the second wave classics, like Darkthrone’s ‘Transilvanian Hunger’. Areas of the release feel razor sharp and cutthroat but others tend to blend into a blur and the middle section of the album feels lost with most of the songs going by in a forgettable whiz. Aside from the likes of ‘Manifest’, ‘Liberation’ and ‘Buried By Time and Dust’ (which happens to be a Mayhem cover), this album fails to live up its early promise.

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