Attera Totus Sanctus
t's hard not to laugh at Dark Funeral. The Swedish band has a guitarist named Lord Ahriman and a singer named Emperor Magus Caligula. Its new album, Attera Totus Sanctus ("bury all that's holy") has songs entitled "King Antichrist," "666 Voices Inside," and "Angel Flesh Impaled." The album cover is hands down the silliest artwork of 2005. The lyrics are ridiculously over the top: "In the land of Israel, not too long ago / A fake sat in his prison cell, watching the moonlight / They called him the king of Jews, but he was a clown / And every nail through his flesh is delivered by me." Out-of-shape men on stage in white face paint? Not exactly an original idea. But almost in spite of itself, Dark Funeral has delivered the best album of its career.
Raw and basic, with every album sounding alike, Dark Funeral is the AC/DC of black metal. Despite lineup changes, the band has stayed true since 1993 to classic Norwegian-style black metal, with shrieking vocals, minor key melodies, tremolo picking, and endless blastbeats. Songs don't result so much as swatches of sound, grim and hypnotic. Play any song from Dark Funeral's catalogue, and one would be hard-pressed to identify its name, much less its album of origin. The band has essentially parlayed one song into an entire career.
Attera Totus Sanctus uses the same ingredients as before. This time, though, one can actually tell the songs apart. The reason is that the songs now have dynamics, if ever so slightly. Where songs before would be full-throttle full-time, brief breakdowns and short but memorable melodies now pepper the wall of noise. For example, the title track starts with a hooky half-speed groove that builds into a hail of blastbeats. "Godhate" floats abstract melodies over wrathful vocals and machine-guns drums. The result isn't heavy so much as heavy-lidded. As captured on 2003's De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te Domine, Dark Funeral is vicious live, featuring fire breathing, pigs' heads impaled on stakes, and the band members covered in animal blood. But on record, the shrieking, howling, and blasting feels like gasping for air. On Attera Totus Sanctus, Dark Funeral has begun to learn how to breathe.
The production on this album ensures its longevity. Instead of the shrill, brittle mixdowns of before, the sound is full and natural. The drums sound especially good. Producer Daniel Bergstrand was a perfectionist, taking three weeks to record the drums and prohibiting the use of drum triggers. The result is an efficient, lively, and unbelievably fast drum performance. Take away the corpse paint (which one publication dubbed "Viking dress-up"), the cartoonish imagery, and the absurd stage names, and Dark Funeral is, at its ice-cold heart, a band that's finally maturing.