Don’t get me wrong, I love melodic death metal. Its intense-yet-accessible nature was what whet my appetite for all things extreme so many years ago. But I’ve always been a bit disappointed that it won the world over during the past twenty years, while melodic black metal is a phrase that’s hardly ever uttered, let alone praised. Mention the style to your average longhair and they’ll probably be hard-pressed to name an influential group other than the mighty Dissection. In comparison, bands that grew out of the Gothenburg scene are still obsessed over, mimicked en masse and headlining festivals the world over. How did we get here?
I think it’s partly a branding issue. Bands who associate themselves with black metal rarely like to admit that they’re following any path other than the absolutely most evil, so discussing things like melodic phrasing and perfect fifths is taboo despite using those tools in the music they create. Or maybe it’s just harder to define. The riffing style helps to mark the differences between death and melodeath, but black metal as a whole has never concerned itself too much with catchy guitar lines or palm-muting as incessant tremolo has generally been the name of the evil game. No matter the reason, it’s a style I believe is every as bit important and dynamic as its deathened counterpart, despite its lack of commercial success.
I speak so long-windedly not to make a case just for the subgenre as a whole, but for those who expertly represent it. Hiidenhauta are a young crew from Western Finland that exemplify the lighter, catchier side of the blackest abyss. Their debut is an incredible example of what happens when beautiful intricacies are injected into the most soulless of dark arts. They take heavy cues from Vreid to create memorable pieces with just enough atmosphere to give off a sense of dreamy wonder, adding a deft poetic twist with lyrics in their native tongue.
Chunky riffs, female vocals, a slightly gothic feel… okay, I’m beginning to understand why die-hard kvltists at least may not find its melodic counterpart appealing. But for fans of melodeath, it’s all the same tricks save for a few cosmetic differences. And the room for experimentation is just so much wider. Things like multiple singers, dreamy keyboards, and an underlying folk influence are all elements not unheard of in death metal. Mix all those and see if anyone can make an album this cohesive while slapping the ol’ melodeath tag on it. Combined with black metal, however, it just works. The aforementioned elements come together perfectly on “Ruumisvedet”, a track which balances the perfect amount of hellish fury and subtle beauty. An excellent poster boy for the subgenre at large, and just one of the many breathtaking moments on Noitia On Minun Sukuni.
If the recent reuniting of Vinterland and Century Media’s Dawn reissues are any indication, this is a style that more people are finally coming around to. But just as the melodeath crowd looks ever-longing towards southwest Sweden circa 1994, we have to remember that world domination does not come from history, and must look towards newcomers like Hiidenhauta to carry the torch. Because bands like them deserve a little glory, too.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]