Dissection: The somberlain
02/09/09 || cadenz
In the early 90’s Swedish death metal was at its popular peak. Entombed, Grave, Dismember, Unleashed and co were pounding out slabs of thick and heavy demise for the ears of their minions. All was well in the land of the dalahäst, in other words. This gory scene laid the foundation for the genre’s evolution into even darker realms, into spheres of sophistication and the occult, into haunting melodies and epic soundscapes, into the magnificent world of the likes of Unanimated, Necrophobic, Decameron and of course the almighty Dissection. “The Somberlain”, D’s first full-length, was one of the first and is still one of the best examples of quality melodious Swedish death metal with a blacker atmosphere than the all-out death of the forefathers mentioned at the top. For me this is as much a classic as “Left Hand Path” or “Like an Everflowing Stream” is, as this record took the extreme music scene on a walk along a path never trod before, and it was the first full chapter of the transcendent testament Jon Nödtveidt’s genial abyss of a mind forged and left for us mere mortals to perceive.
9,5. Finding a balance between evil thrashing, catchy melodies, Satanic pounding and epic arrangements is not easy. Here it is almost brought to perfection, and most of the songs were written when mastermind Nödtveidt was between 14 and 17 years old! Makes your mind boggle… Most of the songs are hit material deluxe, and possess lots and lots of super-quality riffs and melodies. If there ever was blackness which was both evil and beautiful at the same time, it was this disc. Only surpassed by its sequel…
8. Raw. Very raw. Not the heaviest production out there, but that wouldn’t suit Dissection’s music at all anyway. The guitars have a very nasty edge to them, which makes them cut through well in the mix. The bass is muddled somewhere in the background, the snare drum has an OK sound in the middle and the kicks assault you up front together with the vocals, which are very clear and pristine sounding.
9. The amount of amazing riffs and leads thrown on this disc is mind-blowing, not a second goes by without some hook grabbing at you. Everything is well-played, though not mechanically as there is life (death) to the articulation. The only minus comes from the somewhat sloppily played acoustic interludes done by Zwetsloot.
10. Jon Nödtveidt has always been one of my favorite extreme metal vocalists. His articulation is unsurpassed and the wicked edge to his screams always conjure up images of evil demons in my head. Here he hadn’t reached his full potential yet, but still easily gets a 10. Yes, exactly.
6. Buried in the mix, almost inaudible and never steals the attention. Supports the guitars and the sound canvas, but nothing more.
8. Ole Öhman is one of the untightest extreme metal drummers I’ve ever heard, but he’s also one of the most fun to listen to. Lots of creative fills and beats played with passion, though not with much precision – that is, when analyzed today. Back then he was at least average in that regard as well. I have no clue as to how much of a dictator Nödtveidt was on the drum front, but no matter who made up the arrangements, he made them well.
8. Strength and ascent to divinity through darkness, despair and death. Absorb and relinquish your weakness and become the great black flame. It is obvious here already that Jon was enthralled by the afterlife, and his lyrics prophecy his demise. Poetically and passionately written, though somewhat amateurishly at times (keep in mind he was 15-17 years of age) they still convey his emotions very well. Also to be found are more aggressive anti-Christian calls to war such as “Heaven’s Damnation”:
Watch the sky, the crimson tears of heaven
Fade to black, and welcome the night of all nights
8. A malignant-looking guy (who actually could be King Diamond, haha!) driving a coach pulled by black stallions through a blue-black landscape of tombs, trees and castles at night. It’s a Necrolord aka Kristian Wåhlin painting, so you know it’s good. Even though this is one of his earlier works and not as fantastic as for example “In the Nightside Eclipse” or “Storm of the Light’s Bane”, it’s still gorgeous.
9. I love this logo, spiky and fiery but still quite discernible, and with a blue metallic sheen to it. Nice.
9. Lyrics written in some sophisticated font, gold on black; info on who wrote every song’s music and lyrics and when, a bleak photo of a huge medieval castle at twilight, an image of the imposing Dissection inverted-cross-which-is-also-a-trident-and-burning-eyes-behind-it symbol and technical info about the recording. All looks great and nothing else is needed.
Overall and ending rant
Being the egocentric bastard I am, I’ll quote myself: “If there ever was blackness which was both evil and beautiful at the same time, it was this disc”. The atmosphere on “The Somberlain” is pure evil, divine and blasphemous. This is a milestone not just in death/black metal but in all music, a true sophisticated work of lustrous black art.
- Released: 1993
- Label: No Fashion
- Website: www.dissection.se
- Jon Nödtveidt: vocals, guitars
- John Zwetsloot: guitars
- Peter Palmdahl: bass
- Ole Öhman: drums
- 01. Black Horizons
- 02. The Somberlain
- 03. Crimson Towers
- 04. A Land Forlorn
- 05. Heaven’s Damnation
- 06. Frozen
- 07. Into Infinite Obscurity
- 08. In the Cold Winds of Nowhere
- 09. The Grief Prophecy/Shadows Over a Lost Kingdom
- 10. Mistress of the Bleeding Sorrow
- 11. Feathers Fell