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Destined to become one of the more comically over-the-top black metal bands of the genre Dark Funeral managed to persevered where lesser bands would have fallen by the wayside and into eventual obscurity. After the unceremonious exit of founder David Parland forced remaining founding member Mikael Svanberg to exert his full creative control over Dark Funeral and inherit the brand name of the project that Parland had created. The sophomore Dark Funeral release fares as well as one would expect under the circumstances.

Dark Funeral initially took form in Stockholm, Sweden in 1993 as Ahriman, the project took its name from the Avestan-language name of Zoroastrianism's hypostasis of the "destructive spirit", by the duo of David Parland and Mikael Svanberg. In its earliest form Ahriman included two ex-members (vocalist Paul Mäkitalo and drummer Nico Kaukinen) of local death metal upstarts Scum, the formative unit that would transform into populist genre institution Amon Amarth. Somewhere in 1993 Kaukinen exited the fold and Ahriman evolved into Dark Funeral with the addition of drummer Joel Andersson. A year after forming they released the “Dark Funeral” EP on Parland’s own Hellspawn Records imprint. The debut “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” followed two years later. That “Vobiscum Satanas” sounds nothing like the debut was expected.

A shift was expected seeing how three-quarters of the band was replaced for this album. Mikael Svanberg surrounds himself with capable musicians to carry his vision, even though half of them would be replaced themselves by the next album. “Vobiscum Satanas” is the recording debut of former Hypocrisy frontman Magnus Bröberg (who also doubles as bass guitarist) with Dark Funeral, as well as the only album to feature the services of drummer Tomas Asklund, and guitarist Henrik Ekeroth. The revolving door line-ups that characterized its early years would remain for quite some time.

“Vobiscum Satanas” was notable for being the first Dark Funeral album to be written entirely by de facto leader Mikael Svanberg. Parland had written the debut almost exclusively. While superficially identical in stylistic persuasion the keen listener will notice a rather jarring shift as to how the music is arranged. With the pioneering work having been done by fellow Swedes Marduk, Dark Funeral had no intention of carving out its own niche. “Vobiscum Satanas” leans closer towards “Heaven Shall Burn” than it does to “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” which is telling in itself. It was the first instance where Dark Funeral started to use Latin song and album titles. The album title is Latin for “May Satan be with you”, which is as sophisticated as the album is going to get.

Svanberg does a commendable imitation of Parland’s writing style but his melodic sensibility is more traditionally Swedish. Next to using a more melodic writing style Svanberg’s riffs differ greatly from what Parland wrote. The songwriting has been streamlined for the most part, and the dynamic range that Parland mastered so well is completely absent. More than in the Parland era does Svanberg rely on linear song construction. While not all tracks follow the verse-chorus-bridge format, each of the songs progress in similar ways using the same riff set, or slight variations thereof.

Musically and lyrically the album is a whitewash of the vastly superior “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” that preceded it. The lyrics primarily revolve around depictions of hell, suffering and Satan. Deviating from the norm is the track ‘Ravenna Strigoi Mortii’ which amounts to nothing more than a tepid love song put to stereotypical black metal imagery. On successive albums deviations like this would become the norm. On “Vobiscum Satanas” most of the music was written exclusively by Michael Svanberg, except for ‘Enriched by Evil’, ‘Evil Prevail’, ‘The Black Winged Horde’ and ‘Ineffable King Of Darkness’ that were written with input from Henrik Ekeroth.

Once again the band chose to record and mix the album over a twenty day period at Abyss Studio, Sweden with Peter Tägtgren handling the production. Unlike its debut “Vobiscum Satanas” sound typical for the facility where it was recorded. That isn’t necessarily a detriment in itself, but the pristine production (while more refined and texturally richer) doesn’t the possess nearly the character that defined its debut. The artwork and design was handled by Guerrila Art. It is the closest to “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” in terms of color palette with prominent blue and gray shades. Dark Funeral would take a steep turn for the worse in terms of artwork after “Vobiscum Satanas”.

It’s nothing short of a miracle that “Vobiscum Satanas” even materialized considering the departing/ousting of the entire line-up, including the band’s key songwriter. After the defection of Parland, Svanberg became the de facto leader and main composer. His keen melodic sense and traditional riffing style perfectly complemented Parland’s thrashier inclinations. Now that this riffing has become the main attraction it is revealed just how limited it truly is. Adequate and functional to say the least Svanberg’s riffs possess none of the character and bite that Parland’s riffs had. As such “Vobiscum Satanas” sounds exactly like you think it does. It is superficially gratifying and viscerally intense, but doesn’t hold a candle to what David Parland had composed for this band.

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If one was to look at the blueprints for the Norsecore style, three records come to mind instantly. Marduk’s “Heaven Shall Burn…”, Immortal’s “Battles In the North” and Dark Funeral’s “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”. All three laid down the tropes and conventions and are historically important for this reason. While the Marduk and Dark Funeral albums are largely similar in construction and architecture, the Immortal record deviates from the form in terms of music and lyrical subjects. At the same time “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” is interesting because it is the only record of its kind in the now extensive Dark Funeral catalogue. Let’s find out why that is.

12196116_1097632683594622_4770725593262264490_nWritten almost entirely by former Necrophobic co-founder/guitarist David Parland, and recorded (after an aborted session at Unisound with Dan Swano) at Abyss Studios by then up-and-coming producer Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy), this is at its heart a much faster, leaner and overall meaner Necrophobic record. A record like this readily proves black metal’s lineage to the earlier death metal format. Squint your eyes and tilt your head a bit, and you’ll hear that these riffs are just slightly differently arranged Necrophobic, or death metal riffs rather, written and performed to inflict maximum damage. These riffs slice and cut through flesh, the drums hammer away in reckless abandon and the trachea rendering shrieks make people and small animals flee in fear. Other than that, the obvious influences of Bathory, Celtic Frost, Possessed and early Slayer are very hard not to miss, both conceptually as musically.

Much of what would later become this band’s calling card (and the genre as a whole, really) are the piercing, tormented shrieks and rasps, the razorsharp slashing riffing and eerie melodies, plus the seemingly constant blasting drums which batter the listener into submission through repetition. The lyrics talk about the usual assorted subjects of evil, Satan, Lucifer and related imagery. They are far more vivid and imaginative than they would be on later albums. This is the template, in concept and architecture, from which later albums would be built. The biggest difference is that those albums are not nearly as effective, haunting and malevolent sounding as this often-neglected debut. On the whole the album relies much on its novelty factor, and the shock value of the extremity presented. When being truthful, the album kind of drags towards the end because all these tracks sound incredibly similar, and the overall lack of dynamic range doesn’t help matters either. “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” is a good, even a great, album but it isn’t one that inspires a lot of replayability. Only the title track and the two EP tracks is what make this record as strong as it is, and they deviate from the formula.

At the center of the coven is guitarist/main composer David Parland (Blackmoon), along with second guitarist Mikael Svanberg (Ahriman). He would become the de facto leader and the spokesperson of Dark Funeral after this album’s completion. On vocals we have Paul Mäkitalo (Themgoroth) who provides bass guitar along the way, and laying down the drums for this debut is Peter Eklund (Equimanthorn). Parland, Mäkitalo and Eklund would all depart at various times and for various reasons after this album’s completion making this the only album of the original line-up. This is also why this album sounds markedly different from future output, and while superficial similarities are abound Svanberg’s writing is a hollow shell and a pale imitation of what Parland wrote for this outing. It’s the only record to feature a cover painting by Kristian Wahlin (Necrolord) and the last English titled release outside of the preceding self-titled EP, the “Teach the Children To Worship Satan” EP from 2001 and the band disowned bootleg “Under Wings Of Hell” from 2002. As you’ll note the preceding EP and this debut have vastly different artwork in comparison to the works to come. The artwork by Kristian Wahlin is something you’d usually associate with Swedish death metal, melodic or otherwise. The logo is also slightly different from future albums. This is due to copyrights held by ousted co-founder David Parland. David Parland, after all, was Dark Funeral.

The band’s modus operandi was fairly unique at the time, as both they and fellow Swedes Marduk were cultivating this blast-oriented branch of black metal. Dark Funeral’s approach is straightforward and uncomplicated, relying on a continual flow of blastbeats and unrelenting waves of flesh tearing tremolo riffing, all delivered in blistering speeds. Outside of a few scant melodies there’s little what sets these songs apart, and only the two older songs and Von cover track sound actually different from the freshly written material present here. Dark Funeral is an entirely different beast than Necrophobic. Although both share a similar melodic slant, and a heritage of earlier thrash metal in its foundation and overall architecture – Dark Funeral is ultimately the more over-the-top and extreme of the two units. At a blistering pace the band cut through 9 original tracks and a Von cover. Outside of the compact intro there’s no respite to be found, nor a breather. Of the 9 nine originals two tracks (‘My Dark Desires’ and ‘Shadows Over Transylvania’) are re-recordings from the earlier self-titled EP.

In all “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” is interesting in the ways that it differs from the Svanberg-led albums to come. As far as 90s black metal goes this is one of the more engrossing examples of the minimalist, barbaric side of the spectrum. This album would inspire legions of imitators and copycats for decades to come. With the more atmospheric Norwegian releases, and the cult-ish Hellenic albums released around this time, Dark Funeral was at the forefront of this extreme new metal style. One can only imagine what this band would have sounded like had Parland remained with them.