Ragnarok is a Norwegian black metal band that dates back to 1994, jumping into the scene with other underground favourites such as Kampfar, Dodheimsgard and Windir. The band stuck to the more straight forward black metal approach of the time, focusing on the treble heavy, tremolo riffing (akin to a hive of bees on crack), shrieked vocals, low-fi production standards and the cold grimness of Norway itself. But while the band never really managed to break the surface of the lower tiers (but still a tier mind you!) of Norwegian black metal, the groups underground support has allowed them to trudge on through the ages to the present day with their 7th release, Malediction.
To be honest, not a whole lot has changed with Ragnarok’s sound over the years, bar a few things. For instance there seems to be a little bit of a liberal use of other metal elements, such as the opening track Blood of Saints which has riffs breaking into a frenzy of chuggy, rhythmic blasts, somewhat akin to technical death metal, or the song Dystocratic, which opens with a soaring, melodic dual lead guitar lick, not unlike one heard from Iron Maiden. Some melodic death metal elements find their way into this record as well, with some At the Gates-inspired harmonized, buzz-saw tremolo riffing dominating at some points as well. For the most part however, the riffs stick to the aforementioned Norwegian style: fast, shrieky and blasphemous, albeit with a heavier, modern production and some more recent sounding melodies/anti-melodies. For the most part the riffs shoot to evoke an ominous, sinister and foreboding feeling from the listener, but at times it also plays with epic, triumphant and even fun sounding riff/bar chord progressions. The drums are chaotic and in even more of a frenzy than the riffs, being more or less a machine of blast beats, double-bass kicks and other mechanically fast rhythms complimenting the cacophony. With the blistering speeds of the guitar from newcomer Bolverk, and founder Jonotho’s drumming pummelling the speakers, it’s clear that these two form the backbone of the band’s sound, with vocalist Hansfryth doing his part in narrating the blasphemous chaos with his mid-range, guttural shrieks.
As I mentioned before, Ragnarok no longer ascribe to the low-fi, terrible production values that is present on almost every black metal record up until 1996, but then again most bands nowadays have shed that as well. That being said, this record isn’t without some flaws in that regard. They mainly lie in the drums, as most of the time the trebly, high pitched guitars drown out the drum blasts that give them their punch, and considering they’re going for moshing, rhythmic black metal instead of atmospheric, grim black metal this does the music a disservice.
In terms of moods, this is where the record really drops the ball. As I mentioned before, this record didn’t mind throwing in the occasional outside metal influence, including that of Iron Maiden/epic metal, but the problem with this was that in most of the contexts that it was used, it didn’t work. It’s not like black metal and epic-ness don’t work together, they can, but the thing is it’s difficult to add in little passages of epic-ness to blasphemous black metal just out of the blue, especially one that goes for a threatening, sinister approach most of the time. These epic, triumphant and dare I say, cheery bits show up occasionally through the record and really just cause your nose to curl up in confusion whenever you hear them. They’re never really set so that they compliment the blasphemy, and it always seems as a random mood cutaway to an uncomplimentary destination.
I really don’t know what sort of approach they were taking with this, as it’s mostly sinister black metal, but it also tries to be catchy, brutal, epic and melodic, all at different points and without ever really expanding on them in a meaningful way. The transitions into these points were not fluid whatsoever and every time the mood would swing, it felt like the record skipped a little bit.
At the end, there’s definitely enough catchy, general black metal riffing to keep any fan of the style from shutting it off, but it’s just not anything you haven’t heard before, and not done in a particularly effective way either. Malediction goes by and while there may be an enjoyable moment here and there on each song, a vast majority of the time the riffs would either be mildly alien and awkward, enjoyable but unnotable or plain boring. There’s a little bit of evil atmosphere created here but in the end this record is just inoffensive and nothing to write home about.