While Scandinavian black metal does not have a definitive third wave, it would not be hard to argue that if it were to exist, it would have begun peaking right at the turn of the century. Bands like Sweden’s Craft, or Tsjuder and Taake over in Norway were all releasing their debuts, or at least, in the case of Tsjuder, the best material of their career.
No country, however, saw an explosion of great-to-now-classic material quite like what was going on in Finland at the time. While earlier Finnish black metal bands were developing in tandem to the now-legendary Norwegian scene, they didn’t receive nearly the amount of international spotlight as those in Norway. It would be easy to blame this on the church burnings and subsequent murders, and to be fair Finland had its own share of controversy, but in terms of the music Finland lacked the cohesive scene identity that Norway had. Sure, there are plenty of differences to be noted between the likes of Immortal, Mayhem, Darkthrone, or Burzum, but they all had enough similarities in their ice-cold delivery to reveal the influences they had on one another. The Finnish scene had a few common factors, but trying to follow a threadline between Beherit, Barathrum, Impaled Nazarene, and Archgoat proves to be a twisted maze of vastly different influences and variances.
The crest of what, for the sake of argument, we’ll call the third wave of black metal spawned forth a new generation of Finnish black metal that was more influenced by the tremolo riffing of the second-wave Norwegian scene than the mixed bag belonging to the godfathers of their own country’s scene. Bands like Behexen, Satanic Warmaster, Horna; Finland even had their own Darkthrone-influenced type arise with Clandestine Blaze to fly the flag of lo-fi Celtic Frost worship.
Sargeist emerged from this pack as a supergroup of sorts after a stint as the solo project of black metal wunderkind Shatraug (Horna, Behexen, Doedsvangr). Having seen a prominent evolutionary arc from the bleaker, melancholy aggression of Satanic Black Devotion to the punchier, massive sound of their 2010 magnum opus Let The Devil In, Sargeist found themselves in a quandary: how do you come off what is widely regarded as a masterpiece in the genre without falling flat? Sargeist’s serviceable but wholly unremarkable follow-up Feeding The Crawling Shadows was solid, yet it is notoriously difficult to follow up a masterpiece. Thankfully, Sargeist has shaken the shackles and come back strong on their 2018 album, Unbound.
Sargeist starts by getting the elephant out of the room. The breakout riff on the roaring album opener “Psychosis Incarnate” plays much in the same vein of the Let The Devil In title track with a head-smashing one-two beat. The band have upped the ante on the tremolo riffing, delivering a huge sound that bands like Uada only dream of touching. The sound is massive, the production gleans with a rich fullness with plenty of room for the details—the cymbals sound crisp and defined. The guitars, while still distinct, wash over the audio spectrum like hurricane-force winds to the eardrums. By the second track, the lead guitar gets a chance to infect the ears with an extremely satisfying hook of a riff.
While Unbound has a strong start, its heart truly begins to show on “The Bosom Of Wisdom And Madness.” The vocals on the chorus pair well with the mid-paced drive, echoing the soulful desperation and adding a layer of determination to the otherwise melancholy riff. While the following track “Death’s Impact” doesn’t quite evoke the emotional response of its predecessor, it continues to demonstrate Sargeist’s knack for creating memorable and hooky riffs, seemingly from thin air. The hardened emotion and catchy hooks collide with the arrival of the album’s title track. “Unbound” is an oddity and a rare glimpse into a more optimistic sounding Sargeist, and it pays off in spades for one of the best and most memorable experiences on the record. Following it with “Blessing Of The Fire-Bearer” was a wise choice; it’s as if the the stretched melody of the verse riff draws from the energy of the previous track to paint the mood of the song.
The album continues its climax through the double-bass driven “Wake Of The Compassionate,” setting up for the final finale of “Grail Of The Pilgrim.” As a conclusion, it nails all the points needed to drive Unbound home. The track blitzes in like a screaming banshee before giving way to a choral chanting chorus that gives a triumphant final stand for Sargeist’s latest work. In fact, Profundus proves himself to be an invaluable addition to the band, as his vocals are surprisingly charismatic and dynamic across the record.
Sargeist managed to deliver a logical and fitting follow up to Feeding The Crawling Shadows with an album more on par with Let The Devil In. The band succeeds on Unbound by getting the expectations out of the way by the end of the first track. They aren’t trying to top themselves as much as allow the growth to occur organically. While at times there are a few lulls in comparison with the epic peaks of the album, even the lower points are stronger than the majority of their contemporaries in the genre. Sargeist once again have delivered a fine addition to the ever-growing legacy of Finnish black metal.