November 14, 2019 Ragnarok – Non Debellicata (Album Review)
Sub-genres in Metal come and go, but one that has been going about its business fairly steadily has to be Norwegian Black Metal. Most fans of this style are aware of the big players in the game, the ones that get the most positive and negative attention. One band that might not exist at the forefront of the minds of casual fans has to be Ragnarok. Hailing from Sarpsborg, Norway, the collective has existed since the formative years, beginning in 1994 at the behest of Drummer-turned-Vocalist John Bratland, aka Jontho. After a period of seven years, Ragnarok returns with Non Debellicata, its ninth studio album, via Agonia Records on November 15th, reviving a strong discography for a band that is certainly classic within the frosty ranks of Scandinavian extremity.
For one reason or another, Ragnarok never quite achieved the same level of stardom enjoyed by some of their peers. It was not from lack of effort on their part. Early Ragnarok was a tuneful, yet malicious northern storm of violent Pagan anthems strained through the Black Metal of their homeland, but also not far removed from a bit of a Swedish sound – think early Thyrfing and even a hint of Dissection.
As time went on, each release thematically and musically turned from tales of Norse heritage and myth to the horned one. Satanic themes came right to the forefront. It is a good bet that the rise of Folk Metal had something to do with that, as many formerly heathenish purveyors abandoned such themes for fear of being perceived as too lighthearted and all about gaiety instead of rebellion and anger.
Thus, the question remains. Who is Ragnarok in 2019? Non Debellicata, which means “not eradicated” in Latin, is a defiant and unambiguous statement that the Norse veterans are still here, still beating the drum of Black Metal against whatever trend happens to be en vogue at the moment. Beginning with the title track, the album verily explodes into being and does not relent. The looping guitar phrases are underpinned by a strong bass guitar performance courtesy of fresh-faced Christopher “Rammr” Rakkestad. The rolling, thundering percussive display put on by Daniel Minge, aka “Malignant,” is married tightly to the mix. Jontho’s voice is a half-articulate rasp with plenty of drawn out syllables, adding panache to stormers like “Bestial Emptiness” and the thrashy “Gerasene Demoniac.”
The songs on Non Debellicata are reminiscent of Swedish bands like Sacramentum, in this way differing Ragnarok from the more traditional Norwegian Black Metal of their own countrymen. It all has a very primal feel, all of the instruments clearly enunciated in the mix yet still with a very ’90s feel to the production. Fans of raucous extremity will appreciate that there is not too much polish on the songs, leaving the aggression and menace of a track like “The Great Destroyer” to pummel the ears. The riffs are top-notch, well-crafted and it is clear Ragnarok spent a great deal of time and effort building the album.
At just over forty-six minutes in length, Non Debellicata does not overstay its welcome. Upon more idle listening, the songs tend to blur together just a tad. Jontho opts for a similar vocal delivery throughout each track, and even when the band provides some dynamics, some tempo offsets and breakdowns, as in the last three tracks, “The Gospel of Judas Iscariot,” “The Jonestown Lullaby” and Sabbath-style album closer “Asphyxiation,” there is at first blush a sameness to the delivery.
Thankfully, repeated listens bring those subtleties to the fore, as the sheer inventiveness in the guitar riffs provides a great deal of excitement to the experience. Would it be cool if they tried some varied vocal approaches on the album? Sure, as it would add more flavor to the blackened racket at hand. That being said, Ragnarok has put together an old-school slab of thrashing black death guaranteed to please the bullet-belted hordes. They really are underrated, and their legacy has been and continues to be an important one for Norwegian Black Metal. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Non Debellicata 4 out of 5 stars.