Chris McDonald’s take:
I’m never one to condemn a band for making radical changes to their style. Throughout my years as a metal fan I have stood behind many bands as they underwent noteworthy sound shifts, and even if I don’t necessarily prefer the change in direction, I will always respect when a band wants to do something different with their music (unless that band is Cryptopsy).
And yet there are some progressions that I will never understand the logic behind. Take, for instance, 1349’s recent metamorphosis from speedy riff-based black metal to muddled, ambient-centered atmospheric drivel. I was never the biggest fan of this band even in their older days, but I respected that they were at least capable of churning out consistent slabs of entertaining extreme metal with some very catchy riffwork and great vocals, and their self-titled EP still gets occasional spins from me. So I was confused to find that out of Revelations’ forty-plus minute running time, “Maggot Fetus… Teeth Like Horns” is the only track that even remotely conjures the energizing spirit of 1349’s older albums, and its tepid attempts at speedy intensity are hardly consoling. Rather then the almost overwhelmingly intense brand of black metal that used to be this band’s pedigree, 1349 has turned virtually all of their focus to minimalistic ambient and noise compositions, even going as far as covering Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun” (no, I’m not kidding). I dig this kind of music a lot when its executed well, and I love black metal, and yet I was literally pleading for time to go by faster while listening to this album. So, what gives?
Ironically, its not the ambient or black metal segments by themselves that ruin Revelations (though both are far from excellent), but the way they clash together. Considering the dark and mysterious atmosphere of the album as a whole, the black metal in songs like “Uncreation” and “Maggot Fetus…,” in addition to being poorly written, just feels completely tacked on and out of place, and any excitement that may rise during these parts is quashed as soon as the ambience comes hovering back. Conversely, just when you’re beginning to let the atmosphere of the quiet parts take hold of you, the damn half-assed black metal comes back in and takes you right back out of it. I actually would have preferred if 1349 had just gone ahead and made this an all-ambient record—at least then it would have felt like a complete listening experience instead of this indecisive mess. Frost is nowhere to be found on drums, there’s hardly any vocals, and the few riffs that are there are so sterile and unmemorable that its almost not worth mentioning them at all.
There was a time when 1349 had a strong, recognizable identity and a well-defined role within the metal scene. As of now, this album is nothing more than the shoddy and unconvincing craft of a band caught between its desire to progress and its obligation to satiate existing fans. Hopefully they’ll decide which one they want to settle on next time around, because Revelations of the Black Flame is simply a tremendous flop that I can’t imagine appealing to anyone.
Kris Yancey’s take:
I’m not going to say I was a big fan of 1349 before this; truth be told, I hadn’t heard any of their music prior to Revelations of the Black Flame. But I at least knew the legend, like an old story passed down through the generations, of a black metal band whose lifeblood was the blast beat, where speed outweighed all other elements. 1349 was a great and mysterious force, heralded by practically everybody I’d ever come across who’d heard their songs, but for no particular reason, I never caught on and they went largely ignored by my internal metal radar.
That said, knowledge of their previous material is largely unnecessary for an assessment of Revelations of the Black Flame considering two factors, a) 1349 have decided to deviate from their formula of blasting beyond blasting for something a bit more ambient and atmospheric, and b) Revelations of the Black Flame sucks on its own merits. If you were largely unaware of the style change 1349 spoke about in press releases, the differentiation is so immediate that I questioned having heard the right album. I think a promo sheet referred to the new 1349 as playing like the soundtrack to a David Lynch film, and one could deduce Candlelight’s promotions department would like you to think this could’ve held your attention if it underscored Lynch’s debut film “Eraserhead.” They aim high, they shoot low. Don’t try listening to this while watching “Eraserhead.” It makes the “Eraserhead” experience that much less interesting.
If I were to compare Revelations of the Black Flame to a grotesquely bizarre film, it would be Luis Buñuel’s “Un chien andalou,” perhaps better known as “An Andalusian Dog,” and perhaps best known for the opening scene in which an eye is slit by a shaving razor. Our major through-line here is the album’s surrealist nature; it meanders and bumbles about without giving sufficient detail to its purpose, much like “An Andalusian Dog” and the aforementioned eye-slit scene. Similarly, Revelations opens with the crashing waves of horrified screams. Perhaps startling, but not focused enough as to why it should be moving or important. The entire album is fraught with half-assed execution; “Misanthropy” follows a depressing piano interlude into guitar feedback, “Solitude” drones without defining itself by playing spooky “wind in microphone” noises, and “Horns,” well, “Horns” sounds like Lustmord if castrated with a melon baller.
When 1349 do actually get up and write relatively interesting black metal in the vein of their earlier shtick, it’s still not entirely entertaining. The only song worth a damn is “Maggot Fetus…Teeth Like Thorns,” and even that song is just mildly enjoyable. It hurts most when people tout a band so much that your first impression is easily the most lukewarm-at-best album I’ve heard in a long time. Right now, 1349 have seated themselves back under the radar because they wanted to take a chance and experiment.
But hey, who knows what’s going to happen next time? Maybe they’ll have that stroke of genius they were banking on for this album, instead of just having a stroke.