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It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the once-mighty Dark Funeral, Sweden’s self-proclaimed Ineffable Kings of Darkness, with the Bröberg repertoire increasingly having been one of diminishing returns. “Vobiscum Satanas” and “Diabolis Interium” both were efficient for what they were but from “Attera Totus Sanctus” onward Dark Funeral increasingly started to adopt death metal production values and techniques. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is the completion of the regression that commenced with 2005’s “Attera Totus Sanctus” and reached its apex on the self-parody that was “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”. Is age is finally catching up with King Antichrist, Mikael Svanberg – or, more likely, was post-David Parland Dark Funeral just never all that strong in its songwriting to begin with? Dark Funeral has finally put the proverbial noose around its collective neck, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is where its lifeless, dilapidated form hangs from.

“Where Shadows Forever Reign” - the not exactly highly anticipated follow-up to the entirely risible “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, a record that was no less than 7 years in the making - has long-running Swedish black metal formation Dark Funeral reaching the point of obvious redundancy and artistic vacuity and thus banks itself entirely on visual/linguistic cues to earlier, better recordings; and self-referential nostalgia. This is not the much pined after return to relevance with material worthy of the “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” legacy, “Where Shadows Forever Reign” continues the co-opting of death metal stylings and production techniques into what is otherwise remarkably unremarkable barely-there Norsecore that second-tiers Setherial perfected to greater degree many years prior. It’s high-time for Svanberg to consider a songwriting partnership as “Where Shadows Forever Reign” isn’t solely in the grip of the pangs of nostalgia, it’s entire raison d'être seems to hinge on making people forget the dreadful Masse Bröberg era of the band.

Like Suffocation’s “Blood Oath” before it “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is considerably slower compared to prior outings. Instead of starting off with a blisteringly fast cut ‘Unchain My Soul’ opens with ominous narration, and takes its time getting started. As such it’s a harbinger of things to come as Dark Funeral, now two decades and half into its existence, is exhausted. The chiming funeral bell on ‘As I Ascend’ greatly enhances the atmosphere, but it merely functions as a bridge towards the single ‘Temple Of Ahriman’. For the first time in history Dark Funeral pairs two slow songs in immediate succession, neither of which are particularly foreboding. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” does sound like Dark Funeral, especially on the last three Bröberg fronted efforts, but none of it is particularly inspired or inspiring. New frontman Andreas Vingbäck sounds far closer to original singer Paul Mäkitalo with his selection of serpentine rasps, slashing shrieks, and ominous ululations, than to rightly maligned former Hypocrisy frontman Magnus Bröberg. Andreas Fröberg (who has since defected) is another in a long line of completely inconsequential and interchangeable bass guitarists - especially with Svanberg handling the instrument in the studio - that nobody pays attention to. ‘Unchain My Soul’, ‘As One We Shall Conquer’ and ‘Nail Them to the Cross’ were co-written with drummer Nils Fjellström (who has since defected), but it isn’t nearly enough to shake off the rust of a decade plus of self-imposed creative stasis.

You’d be hardpressed to recognize any of this as Dark Funeral, especially the drastically lowered pace and the heavy-handed attempt at mimicking Dissection-like epic songwriting, complete with Iron Maiden-inspired leads and archetypical Swedish melodic accents. In light of a 7 year hiatus (and another overhaul of half the line-up) what could we possibly expect? A return to the golden days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”, the one Dark Funeral record that Svanberg had practically no involvement in? No. It’s nothing short of a miracle that Dark Funeral is still around to begin with, and their adamant refusal to go quietly into the night almost resembles Maryland’s Dying Fetus. Not everything about “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is terrible. Yet it is terrible enough to merit that most on “Where Shadows Forever Reign” either doesn’t resemble the Dark Funeral we’ve all come to love/hate, or either is a nostalgic callback to the brighter, fiercer, more agile days of “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”. Making a long overdue return is the instantly classic blue Necrolord canvas and the old title font. It’s faint praise indeed but at least “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is better on the visual front than “Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus”, which isn’t much of a recommendation in and of itself.

At this point there’s no other way of saying what everybody the least bit perceptive already knew years ago. Dark Funeral is a spent creative force, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is testament to its redundancy. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is a solid enough death metal album - one that doesn’t warrant frequent revisiting - but not one you’d want to see adorned with the iconic Dark Funeral coat of arms. Not that this particular evolution is the least bit surprising or unexpected. It was over a decade coming, and now Armageddon has finally come. More than anything “Where Shadows Forever Reign” has the look of a last-minute act of restoration, a desperate attempt to invoke the spirit of the glorious past. This Temple Of Ahriman has been in disrepair for longer than was probably healthy, and “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is unable to escape the looming shadow of the superior songwriting skills of the late David Parland. It’s high time for the Black Winged Horde, these Demons Of Five, to refamiliarize themselves with what made them famous to begin with. In 2016 Dark Funeral is as declawed, docile, and unnecessary as modern day Dimmu Borgir. The real question is: when will the metal scene finally refuse to put up with mediocre swill like this? No more!

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“Murder Without End”, the first Fleshgrind record on a bigger label, after two largely similar predecessors, showed improvement in the drum department as the band enlisted a seasoned veteran. In the decade-plus that Fleshgrind was active, from 1993 to 2005, they released three albums, of which “Murder Without End” was the last. While this is the most fluid and technical of the band’s three albums, it revels in the same stagnation and fatigue that already surfaced on its predecessor. Not even the highly improved visuals, superb drumming and glossy production job can mask that rather glaring fundamental shortcoming.

As the third and final Fleshgrind album “Murder Without End” saw the band reaching new heights in terms of production and visuals. On its swansong effort the band arrived at a level of imitation, whereas in the past they were merely redundant. Here Fleshgrind sounds almost identical to their arguably more popular regional peers Gorgasm. The only difference between Fleshgrind and Gorgasm at this point being is its choice of subject matter. Where Gorgasm reveled in misogyny and perversion Fleshgrind chose the expected serial killer topic in what could be dubbed a loosely conceptual effort. It is faint praise indeed for a band that never accomplished more than being a mere sum of its parts.

Usually an album’s first song is its most explosive, not so with “Murder Without End” as the first two songs pass by without any particular highlights to speak of. Third track ‘Duct-Taped and Raped’ has some creative bass licks for its duration, and a catchy chorus to boot. ‘Perversion Of Innocence’ and ‘Pistolwhipped’ stand out for the mere fact of how far the former goes in copying fellow Illinois unit Gorgasm, and that the latter has some funky bass licks in spots. ‘In Sickness Intertwined’ is slightly more diverse than the rest of the album even though it’s the shortest track of the album. ‘Libertine Atonement’ is a slower Morbid Angel cut, and memorable because of just that. Even though it reverts to the band’s characterless blasting not long after the morose introduction. It is exactly the slow parts that are the strongest segments of the cut. ‘Holy Pedophile’, a re-recorded track of the band’s 1993 demo tape of the same name, is better composed, and dynamically richer than any of the new tracks. It is damning that the only material to feature any solo work was the demo song. Each of these tracks is functional in its own right, but little of it etches itself into the memory of the listener afterwards. The demo track conclusively proved that Fleshgrind was playing far below its actual skill level.

The move into Gorgasm territory isn’t in itself much of a surprise as “Murder Without End” features the third Fleshgrind drummer in as many albums. Making his debut (and sole) appearance with the band is drummer Derek Hoffman, perhaps most remembered for his impressive performance on the 1998 Gorgasm EP “Stabwound Intercourse”. As the drum department improved drastically with each subsequent album both Steve Murray (rhythm guitar), and Rich Lipscomb (vocals) remain on the same spot creatively. The only difference is that Lipscomb, who was never the most expressive grunter on the scene to begin with, moves back into his comfort zone of the deeper tones of “Destined For Defilement”. It is a welcome change after the higher-pitched screams and incessant growled barks of the rather regrettably forgettable “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment”. The only person in the line-up to show a lick of creativity is bass guitarist James Genenz, but he is given precious little to work with. The same goes for new skinsman Derek Hoffman, the technically most accomplished drummer to date, who makes the best of what he is given. One can’t shake the impression that more engrossing material should have been reasonably expected given the amount of talent in this particular line-up.

Even though “Murder Without End” had the most potent line-up up to that point, Fleshgrind does nothing of note with the talent at its disposal. Not even the steep increase in technical chops makes it notably different from its contemporaries. The only thing that truly differentiates this album is the usage of a recurring piano effect. The very minimal effect is somewhat reminiscent of the Nine Inch Nails song ‘The Frail’ from the “The Fragile” double album. On all other fronts there’s no notable evolution from the past. The lyrics follow a loose narrative, detailing the events and deteriorating psychology of a serial murderer as he stalks, sexually assaults and brutally kills his various unfortunate female victims in the most graphic of ways. The only track to not follow the narrative is the re-recorded version of demo track ‘Holy Pedophile’ (from the 1993 demo tape of the same name). The fact that the best, and most memorable track on the album is one that the band wrote a decade prior is problematic to say the least.

The album was recorded at Studio One in Racine, Wisconsin with producer Chris Wisco – and the only Fleshgrind effort in which Broken Hope’s Brian Griffin had no involvement. There’s a degree of clarity, warmth and texture that was sorely absent on the prior two Fleshgrind releases. Chris Wisco gives the band a warmer drum – and bass guitar tone along with more overall sonic depth. The visually arresting digital artwork by Mike Bohatch was a major improvement over the rather muddy artwork that adorned the otherwise adequate “The Seeds Of Abysmal Torment”. At long last in terms of production and visuals Fleshgrind was living up to its veteran status. Yet despite the increased production values and potent line-up Fleshgrind was still nothing more than a mere sum of its parts.

Thanks to the contract with Olympic Recordings and Century Media the band enjoyed great visibility on the scene than regional peers Gorgasm, who were on Unique Leader Records. While functional, and enjoyable in its own right “Murder Without End” was hardly a vital, or mandatory record in any capacity.