If I was feeling like kind of an asshole, I might suggest that this review of Nemesis, the ninth and newest Azaghal record (and third for Moribund) could be kept to three words: “Finnish black metal.” That, however, would be doing a disservice to the band’s ferocity and long-running dedication to the unholy cause of black metal, and also to you, dear reader, who might like to be a bit more selective in how your bread is blasted. Still, right from the outset the minor key tremolo arpeggios fly thick and frothy, the drums clatter through blastbeats, midpaced jogs, and double-bass-only slow-downs, the bass player dribbles out chord-root eighth notes and probably pulls all manner of grim faces while doing so, and the vocals shatter glaciers with their reverb. Thus, the ears perk up: goddamn Finnish black metal, indeed.
Over the course of 52 minutes, Azaghal runs through an impressive variety of black metal micro-styles, which ends up being both a boon and a detriment. From the charging traditionalism of opener “De Masticatione Mortuorum” and the pitch-perfect eeriness of “In Deathlike Silence,” the band easily slips from one orthodoxy to another. “Hail the Whore” rocks back and forth in place in the ultra-simplistic spirit of Transilvanian Hunger, while “Vihasta ja Veritöistä” flirts briefly with that other great Finnish export, weepy-as-balls melodic death metal. The latter definitely struggles to maintain interest over its almost eight minutes, but the blending of half-time melodic sections and traditional fjord-leaping blasts is well done. “Black Legions of Satan” is a pure black ‘n roll stomper in the style of Craft or Khold, but despite boasting a magnificently spiteful sing-along chorus makes for a rather jarring change of pace. Thus, while the variation in styles does tend to mitigate the album’s sometimes flagging energy, I would have preferred the band to edit out a few of the more sudden stylistic tangents as a way to trim the album down to an ideal 40-45 minute range.
As it turns out, Azaghal saves the real show-stoppers for the album’s latter half, where the lurching main riff and seriously chunky riffage of “The Pit of Shoggoths” gives way to the kind of otherworldly lead-work more likely to be found spiraling from the Azagthoth-ian axes of Mithras. The title track in particular is an absolutely storming triumph, with its opening riff suggestive of Moonsorrow’s majesty, and some unexpected clean choral vocals that make a wonderful contrast with the omnipresent cavernous howls. These moments of stark beauty shouldn’t really come as a surprise, of course, given that Azaghal mastermind Narqath is also the sole force behind the black/folk metal project Wyrd, but an anthem like this proves for good that when Azaghal well and truly pulls out all the stops, they can stand toe to frostbitten toe with the best and most beastly of their countrymen.
Therefore, although Nemesis is not quite on a par with some of this writer’s favorite Finnish black metal albums of recent years such as Sargeist’s Let the Devil In, Goatmoon’s Varjot, or Satanic Warmaster’s Nachzerer, Azaghal is still a major player in the country’s rotten scene. Nemesis is a suitably grim and vicious affair, and if the dulcet tones of Horna, Baptism, Behexen, Clandestine Blaze, and so on are enough to send you swooning, this racket is made just for you. While I’m still waiting for Azaghal to produce the front-to-back church-burner of an album I know they’ve got in them, Nemesis serves as a more than fitting entry in the ongoing saga of one small country possessed of an impossibly cross underground. Whatever the hell is wrong with Finland, I damn well hope it stays wrong.