The relative merits of making an homage/worship album has long been a heated subject of debate among metal heads and music fans in general. Thulcandra’s debut, Fallen Angel’s Dominion, is as worthy a subject for the debate as any other and may have a few things to add to the “nothing wrong with it if it’s good” argument, even if it doesn’t disarm those in the “fucking blasphemy” camp. After all, this album sounds just like early Dissection, with a few nods to other pioneers of the second wave (Immortal, Emperor), and it is done exceptionally well.
A few things make the homage approach a little easier to stomach. First, it’s good when the band owns the fact that they’re paying tribute. Steffen Kummer made a transparent statement of intent in his band’s nascent stages that they were all about making music in the vein of Dissection. Clear and direct. Done.
Second, it helps when band members are involved in other, more distinct projects, if only to show that their talents extend beyond mere mimicry. It lends credibility to the proposition that the homage is done with due respect to the enduring legacy of the original band. Thulcandra consists of current or former members of tech-death upstarts Obscura (Kummer and session drummer, Seraph), and Pagan metallers Helfahrt (Kummer and twins, Sebastian and Tobias Ludwig), and Seraph also wields the hammers for Dark Fortress and cosmic death brigade Noneuclid. So the band’s diverse pedigree suggests there’s more to the story here than the exploitation of a well-established sound. And helmsman Kummer’s time fronting another Dissection tribute act in Black Horizons suggests, then, that maybe preserving the fire of the seminal melodic black metal sound is something of a mission.
Third, given the importance of the authenticity prerequisites, it ought to be done thoroughly and respectfully. Thulcandra has come through (maybe too well) on both counts on Fallen Angel’s Dominion (album title, case in point). Their logo is of the legible pointy variety, the song titles and lyrics were carefully crafted to reflect the themes of Dissection’s early works, and (The) Necrolord’s cover art, a depiction of Death piping the bone flute on a Wintry blue night, completes the album’s outward tribute. Within, and rife with the essential icy tones, sharp riffing, and the interplay of poignant melody and counterpoint with haunting acoustic interludes, the music captures the early-nineties black metal spirit faithfully. But it does so from almost entirely within the sphere of Storm of the Light’s Bane, and this is where all the qualities that initially carry the record begin to buckle under the weight of its construction. Even as, overall, the album borrows its colors directly from the Dissection spectrum, several songs reach to the core of that album to cull line, texture, form and space, as well, leaving virtually nothing to distinguish Thulcandra’s art from that of their forebear (e.g., “Night’s Blood” draws directly from “Night Eternal”, “Spirit Of the Night” from “Thorns of Crimson Death”). It’s to be expected on an album like this, and maybe even as it should be, but such qualifications can’t save this record from the ensuing ennui after a few listens.
Homage is a tricky business. Regardless of quality, the ability of such albums to hold up over even a brief time is suspect, at best. The pseudo-novelty of something awesome but old made new again often lights up the burners just long enough to recognize it as a mere reflection of something authentic, smothering the flame in ambivalence. The result here will be that those familiar with but, for whatever reason removed from, Dissection’s works will find the love of the sound rekindled. And perhaps, in line with Kummer’s apparent mission, those unfamiliar with the sound will find the fire for the first time and themselves thusly compelled to seek out its source. All in all, a laudable end to the means.