And just like that, Naglfar is back. It’s been eight long years since the Swedish powerhouse graced us with Téras, their last selection of melodic death-infused black metal, and even though this latest record for Century Media, Cerecloth, picks up right where the last left off, it is probably not what you were expecting.
The historical image of Naglfar peaks for many fans with 2007’s Harvest, one of the most engaging and cerebral releases melodic black metal has seen. As a result, Téras was greeted with mixed reviews: its heavier, rawer approach made it a much less comfortable listen, but as has so often been said, ‘art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.’ This new record is, therefore, going to upset even more old-timers yearning for the glory days of yesteryear, as it goes about its business of disturbing and comforting in an even heavier, less compromising fashion. From the opening strains of the title track, past the painfully aptly named “Vortex of Negativity” through to the slower burn of “Necronaut,” Cerecloth redefines the overused (but nevertheless still highly appropriate) term of ‘brutal’ in its blistering, destructive and misanthropic assault.
The first single, “Cerecloth” sums up the album convincingly, with frighteningly harsh metal assaults on one hand, and convincingly eerie atmospheres evoked on the other.
While the lead guitar melodies still embellish the punishing rhythms, this nostalgic aural signature plays a far less central role than it did on Sheol (2003) or Pariah (2005); instead, the message of “the usual death and destruction” (as described by guitarist Andreas Nilsson) is delivered with blunt force trauma, each hammer blow painting a picture of anger, nihilism, despair and darkness in shades of arterial spray. Once again, this visual description is aptly echoed in descriptive title names like “A Sanguine Tide Unleashed.”
What becomes very clear upon repeated listening, however, is that Cerecloth is not just about making a heavy, furious first impression: this is not a simple, single-use, disposable album by any means. The complex arrangements, clever pacing and shifting dynamics become more pronounced with time, leading to the conclusion that it may be Naglfar’s hardest-hitting record, but it is also their most carefully crafted to date.
Consequently, and to use terms younger readers might better understand, Cerecloth brings all the metals to the yard and still hits you in the feels. The emotional value of the album is its greatest achievement, dragging you kicking and screaming through malevolent hatred (“Like Poison for the Soul”), ineffectual despair (“Cry of the Seraphim”) all the way to upliftment and even relief. The closing passages of “Last breath of Ygdrassil” are not only a poignantly beautiful end to the album, but they’re also a cathartic, gentle end to the proceedings.
Some typically Swedish riffing receives the Naglfar treatment on “Vortex of Negativity,” resulting in a dissonant, unsettling and downright delightful specimen of black metal.
In retrospect, Cerecloth is not just a new chapter for Naglfar, but an artistic evolution and a wake-up call to the genre: black metal is littered with so many divergent projects and sub-genres that it becomes all too easy to get lost in the detritus and forget what it really represents, or from where it all came. You can label this as ‘trve’ or ‘cvlt,’ but it really just comes down to being authentic: letting your musical output speak for itself and be judged accordingly, not based on its social media profile, theatrical makeup or controversial opinion. And that’s exactly what Naglfar has done with Cerecloth: taken the time to reflect on their artistic output, craft the best music they can and stay true to themselves in the process.
Cerecloth Track Listing:
3. Like Poison for the Soul
4. Vortex of Negativity
5. Cry of the seraphim
6. The Dagger in Creation
7. A Sanguine Tide Unleashed
9. Last breath of Yggdrasil
Release Date: May 8, 2020
Record Label: Century Media