When Darkthrone first released A Blaze In The Northern Sky, the high-contrast black-and-white photo of the single band member for the cover was wild. It’d never really been done like that before. It was crafted to look necrotic and mysterious, but also to stand out amongst other records, to make someone perusing the records at the shop to stop and say, “What is this?!” And it worked. In fact, it worked a little too well. In a cosmic bitchslap of irony, the shadowed black-and-white album cover with the single member on the cover gives a pretty clear idea of what is to be expected. No more “What is this?” rather it’s a lot like, “Ah, yes. This again.” With the ease of making such a defining cover, that metaphysical bitchslap comes back around on the knuckle side if you particularly happen to enjoy raw, necrotic black metal and must labor through a thousand similar covers to find something that really satisfies the bloodlust. Yet, in a way, that same astral hand that dishes out the punishment caresses the reddened, swollen cheeks as you realized you just listened to a helluvalot more bizarre and twisted ideas of music than you originally had going in. The Cosmos have a way of being a cruel–but effective–mistress.
“Genom Döden Återfödt” (“Through Death Reborn”) comes in at a feverish death march tempo. Again, the song is mostly built around variations of a riff or two, but those riffs are infections, holding hypnotic attention as the rest of the song is built around it. The leads dance with mischievous, maniacal intent. The bass is subtle but audible, marching along and taking the occasional walk to add flavor to the rhythm section. The title track continues the tempo descent, hitting right at that hammering pace of Darkthrone’s “Quintessence.” It’s a black metal staple, yet Hindsides finds a way to make it their own, littering chimes and a bit of shredding axe work. A subtle bass lick adds to the elements building around the song until the repressed energy releases at the midpoint. The tremolos immediately create fresh tension across the blasts as the song amps up to black ‘n’ roll breakout riff swarmed by those pestilential leads. The “Quientessence” riff returns, because of course if you use that riff in a song you ALWAYS come back to it for the fadeaway outro. It’s perfect for a fadeaway outro. Them’s the rules.
Flipping over to the B side of Under Betlehems Brinnande Stjärna reveals a cover of Samhain’s “Macabre.” While covers on albums tend to be a turnoff, the choice of song is inspired, and the way in which Hinsides deliver it in their own voice makes it more than convincing. It’s reverent, in a way, to the original, but fits so well within the context of Hinsides’ sound that it doesn’t sound out of place. The while the electricity has remained constant across the album, the aggressive tempo strikes back on “Skymningsfärd” (“Twilight”). Erupting with blasts, the song quickly teases a breakdown before returning and doubling down on the aggression. Chaotic, punky bursts of guitar solo boil over the fury–and again, that tease of relief. It’s like flirting with the feeling of death, letting go and instinctually struggling to return. Finally, the ultimate relief is delivered when the final climax meets with with an almost ethereal relief. Those chimes ring out as the song is given full room to breathe, allowing the listener to at last bask in sweet relief.
As though calling from the other side, the brief keyboard transition of “Frälst I Dödsstöten” (“Saved In The Death Blow”) ushers in the finale. “På Jordelifwets Sorgetåg” (“On The Mourning Train Of Life”). That swarm of bees guitar darts around the witching one-two tattoo of the drumst. Sure, it’s a polka rhythm, but it sounds ever-so eve-eel with the cackling guitar and hateful bark of the vocals spewnt across its beat. For something so necrotic, it’s lively, a danse macabre at the final conclusion of the album. There’s a certain grace spun from the aggression and chaos of the music. And its done so without relying too heavily on outside effects. While the vocal layering and the chimes and light touches of organ and synth add to the music, its the songwriting that really holds it all together.
Sure, we’ve heard it before, but Hinsides manage to pull from a variety of influence and inspiration to craft their own work with its own voice. While plenty of comparisons could be made to Craft, Les Legions Noires, Darkthrone, Burzum; to long lost gems like Grausamkeit or Vornat or Crimson Evenfall; to modern favorites such as Wampyric Rites or Lamp Of Murmuur or Spectral Wound–and while all these comparisons have merit, Hinsides manages to feel inspired in their own right. Under Betlehems Brinnande Stjärna certainly quenches that insatiable bloodthirst for fresh, raw black metal. If you’re a fan of the high-contrast black-and-white album (bonus for the cool border!), save yourself a bit a metaphysical sadism and jump on this one.