1349 – The Infernal Pathway (Album Review)

One of the more restless of the entities of Norwegian Black Metal, 1349 returns to lay waste to unsuspecting ear drums with their seventh full-length album. Entitled The Infernal Pathway, the album infects the world officially on Friday, October 18th, 2019, via Season of Mist, coming five years after a huge step forward with the critically acclaimed Massive Cauldron of Chaos album. Can the serpentine, unpredictable collective continue to push their sound and deepen their sonic footprint upon the landscape of Extreme Metal music, or did the plague reach critical mass years ago?

The compliment of vocalist Ravn and guitarist Archaon as well as bassist Seidemann, is bolstered by the inimitable and ferocious drumming of Frost (Satyricon), who join forces on The Infernal Pathway to once more pummel the listener, while still providing a touch of the psychedelic darkness the band can conjure. It is important to stress a touch, because detractors of 1349 have cited some of their sonic departures – particularly on 2010’s Demonoir and 2009’s Revelations of the Black Flame before it – as losing the script from the usual 1349 face-pummeling to which fans were accustomed.

It is often the case, however, that bands who are unafraid to push the limits to their own fans through true and genuine creative departure can have some of the best results. For 1349, who some would say boldly covered Pink Floyd in the past, they have taken all that they have put forth and congealed their efforts into a tight, thrash-laden song structure that provides atmosphere as a sort of decoration, adorning the monolithic foundation of Frost’s blast-rich drumming. Yet having said all that, one cannot assume these 1349 songs will follow even that script.

Take “Striding the Chasm,” a song with an old Venom meets Slayer feel, chock full of snappy leads and throbbing bass lines. It is a song that when played live, dares the audience not to erupt into a circle pit. Juxtapose this with the anthem-feel of “Stand Tall in Fire,” which is not too far removed from what their colleagues in Satyricon are up to in their latest releases. Carefully articulated, deliberately built, as an album closer it puts quite a nice exclamation point on the album. The way it crescendos towards the end is nothing short of dark artful splendor, releasing built tension in a hail of thrashy leads.

The Infernal Pathway, like the Demonoir album, is populated by ambient interludes called “Tunnel of Set,” but it is not quite as frequent as on that past release. These tracks serve to offset the main compositions, but could be better served by being actual classical pieces instead of just ambient noise. The music of 1349, whether it’s the staccato and majesty of “Towers Upon Towers,” with its spoken word center and devastating breakdown, or the more straightforward onslaught of “Enter Cold Void Dreaming,” would be so much better served with the tease of the neoclassical than the mere ambient. Or perhaps this is what comes of cutting one’s teeth on ’90s mind-benders like Limbonic Art and Samael.

Moving on, though, one should not gloss over the titles just mentioned. “Towers Upon Towers” might be the most complete journey offered here, a massive blend of the elements that make 1349 themselves. “Enter Cold Void Dreaming” is another monster, with machine-gun drums throbbing behind Ravn’s frigid rasp. This song is signature 1349, a barely restrained juggernaut of black metal intensity and quite reminiscent of their 2014 opus, the previously mentioned Massive Cauldron of Chaos.

There are moments on The Infernal Pathway when one can hear the influence of latter day Satyricon – 1999’s Rebel Extravaganza and forward. “Deeper Still” is a magnificent ode to the then ultra-modern take on Black Metal. This is classically influenced Norwegian Black Metal, these men of lifelong dedication to the black flame channeling their devotion to a song of pulsating restless rage and triumph. Never too rigid, it builds a very interesting set of riffs atop a template of blast-beats. It shows how creative guitarists can be simply playing over an inhumanly fast backdrop of percussive intensity.

From the opening storm surge of “Abyssos Antithesis,” with its thrashy opening montage of riffery, and wicked transition to Black Metal via the barrage of Reign In Blood-era Slayer, through to the end, 1349 has once more found a perch high in the gnarled tree of Black Metal, within shouting distance of Massive Cauldron Of Chaos. It was not going to be easy to eclipse that album, but 1349 has managed to create something just as delectable to fans of the black flame. For that reason Cryptic Rock gives The Infernal Pathway 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase The Infernal Pathway:

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