Blistering waves of demonic fury assault me from all sides, as quality production and malevolent atmospheres meet in a swirling tumult of black metal wrath… but even as Malakhim’s debut full-length recording, Theion, washes over me, I’m feeling a mite unmoved.
Which is a shame, because here is a band that ticks all the requisite boxes: Scandinavian origins, formidable musicianship, just enough raw edge on the production values and a strong sense of black metal heritage in conveying their own personal flavour of dissonant, melodic evil. Perhaps it is because it’s only a first studio outing, but Theion – despite its quality, pedigree and adherence to orthodox black metal fundamentals – comes across as a B-grade Enthroned clone in places or a Dark Funeral copycat in others. For example, “Splendour of Stillborn Stars” has all the right ingredients, but the arrangement and overall feel are one of déjà vu rather than the aural equivalent of virginal sacrifice.
Splendour, perhaps. Stars? Not so much.
That said, there is still plenty of really solid positive critique to be had on Theion: the dynamic percussion, for instance, is head and shoulders above what many other fresh young black metal artists bring to the table. The unexpected – even jarring – breaks in rhythm on album opener “There is a Beacon,” for example, rattle the most hardened of skulls.
In contrast, the over the top bombast of “Hammer of Satan,” with its spiralling introductory lead is such an anthemic homage to days gone by – and the driving, inexorable groove powering the song, coupled with its thematic content, is a wonderful nod to the likes of Inquisition. Coupled with some truly accomplished guitar work, this does speak of great things to come, potentially making Malakhim a worthy heir to Naglfar’s true Swedish metal throne in times to come.
The stand out for me, personally, must be “Chalice of Ruin,” however. The ominous low-end is as malevolent as it is intriguing, and an album packed with numbers like this would have been an absolute winner. Coupled with the incredible cover art by Mitchell Nolte, Theion should have been destined to destroy all comers. Sadly, the largely-forgettable closing tracks on Theion touch on a monotone register, so the impact of this killer cut isn’t as long-lasting as it could be.
Malakhim live: a very different beast than the domesticated studio version.
So even while Malakhim leverages their impressive knowledge of black metal history, what should be simple comparisons to the likes of Dissection or Marduk become derivations. And even while I can appreciate an album that achieves exactly what it sets out to, by delivering a solid 40-odd minutes of irreligious darkness and scorn, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. For a more convincing argument, revisit Malakhim’s 2020 live recording, Hic Rugitus Cavernarum Terribilis, and experience a more authentic and compelling black metal narrative than this. Theion is good, but fails to live up to the standards Malakhim set for themselves; perhaps with experience, their studio mastery will improve.
Theion Track Listing:
1. There is a Beacon
2. Merciless Angel of Pestilence
3. Slither O Serpent
4. Chalice of Ruin
5. His Voiceless Whisper
6. Hammer of Satan
7. Splendour of Stillborn Stars
Run Time: 41:01
Release Date: January 8, 2021
Record Label: Iron Bonehead