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There may be no moment more glorious in black metal than when the underground shines with blazing inspiration. Panphage, a one-man band from Sweden, was a completely unknown to me entity before this summer, when I was introduced by a friend to their “Ursvöl” demo, a raw exemplar of 90’s Scandinavian black metal riffing with a pinch of folk embedded in guitar-parts structure, ending up as a beautiful descendant of the pagan spirit of the once-mighty Norwegian scene. This year’s “Storm” is the debut album of the band, released in this spectacular cassette edition (see it here) via Ætergap Productions. As was apparent from their numerous (6) quality demo releases (“Ætt Loka” & “Ursvöl” being their crowning achievements) Panphage is not a one-hit wonder, and “Storm” showcases it in an excellent way.
As in most genres, there is a multitude of multi-polar divisions inside black metal, some of them quite evident and embraced as a system of classification by many a listener (the naive “raw versus atmospheric” categorization being a prime example), others being less apparent/adopted. One such broad bipolar division, probably apparent to most of the audience, yet not so widely referenced, is a difference in guitar mentality: flexible and agile guitar riffing versus a more monolithic use of the instrument as a wall of atmosphere, not unlike the post-rock example. While both categories have more than adequate specimens, I have a preference for agile, front-line riffing, and “Storm” is a more than welcome contemporary example of it. Even in the 2 out of the 3 instrumental tracks of the release, one’s interest is immediately hooked up by the procession of and exchange between acoustic and slightly distorted folk motifs (the third one, the closing “Fenomen” is an eerie keyboard based anthem, reminiscent of Vemod). The remaining 5 songs are each based upon a simple yet elegant guitar idea, steeped in the folk spirit, highly melodic, yet never straying from black metal aesthetics. What Taake once did with “Nattestid..” and Ulver with “Bergtatt..” finds here its logical descendant. Pompous, atmospheric even in its grooviest moments (as in certain parts of “Hemmavid” which have a tendency for thrashing versality), with a mix of melodic and rawer-yet-essentially-clean vocals, “Storm” is highly passionate. Also of note, production-wise the band has improved, discarding a measure of the demo “underground” fuzziness in favour of a clarity of just the right quantity. But it all comes down to this amazing mixture of folk ideas in highly active riffing, which was and still is the hands-down best way of creating the kind of northern majestic atmosphere that part of black metal is all about.
“Storm” is the last link on a chain containing masterpieces as “Nattestid..” and “Bergtatt..”, Borknagar’s debut, Kampfar’s 2 first opuses, certain Isengard and Storm (the band) moments, and some less well-known recordings, as Bethel’s “Northern Supremacy”; if it was released during the 90’s, «Storm» would be considered a classic. More importantly for now, it is proof of this subgenre’s contemporary existence. Swedish underground is during the past few years the single best place for black metal traditionalists to turn their attention to. Total support for this band (check also their “Gøthalandom” split with Jarnvidr which was released this summer).