Beginning life as a traditional-sounding Norwegian black metal outfit, Oslo’s Dodheimsgard have evolved drastically with every release, to the point that if you were to play each of their full-length recordings to someone who was completely unfamiliar, they’d likely attribute them to several different bands. This near-constant state of progression and reinvention has made DHG into one of the most exciting groups to emerge from the Scandinavian second wave, the lengthy periods of inactivity between albums doing nothing whatsoever to dull my anticipation of their next move.
A Umbra Omega, DHG’s fifth album overall and first new recording in eight years, sees them metamorphosing once again, largely eschewing the industrial trappings of 1999’s groundbreaking 666 International and 2007’s more straightforward (by DHG standards) Supervillian Outcast in favor of a more organic sound that weaves a tangled tapestry of black metal and dark psychedelia. The result is a sequence of five twisted, labyrinthine tracks (and a brief intro) that see-saw between light and dark, beauty and ugliness, simplicity and chaos in a way that few modern black metal entities could even fathom.
Indeed, what’s most striking about A Umbra Omega is the way in which flurries of furious, quasi-technical black metal riffing give way to passages of hypnotic, Floyd-ian ambience. Granted, DHG aren’t the first band to attempt psychedelic black metal, but they might be the first one to pull it off in such a convincing, seamless manner, as there is nothing about A Umbra Omega that feels disjointed or slapped together; the same cannot be said for other bands attempting this style. There was a tension to Pink Floyd’s best work that often felt like the band was right on the edge of spiraling into madness; DHG answer the question, “what if Gilmour, Waters and Co. had cut loose, piled on the distortion and let the lunatics run amok?”
A Umbra Omega‘s production scheme is dry and spacious, yet still manages to feel plenty claustrophobic whenever those icy tremolo riffs kick in and Aldrahn starts ranting and raving, at times exhibiting a rickety, clattering quality that makes the full-on black metal sections feel hideously decrepit even as they flow into the more vast-sounding, trippy portions of the album. The psychedelic sections are impressively layered and mesmerizing; A Umbra Omega is one of those albums where you’re likely to hear new things with each and every listen, and it’s evident that the album was crafted with the same frighteningly meticulous level of attention to detail that has become DHG’s trademark ever since 666 International.
Dodheimsgard continues to solidify their reputation as avant garde black metal chameleons with A Umbra Omega, delivering an early album of the year contender in the process. There simply isn’t another active band in the Norwegian scene (and arguably beyond) that can top their unwavering dedication to pushing the sonic envelope, and it is this dedication that makes their music such a joy to experience. Longtime DHG fans will be pleased by the quintet’s continued progression, while newcomers with open minds will likely have them blown to bits.