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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!

As Dissection fell apart at the peak of its power due to the incarceration of its frontman and creative force, rhythm guitarist Johan Norman went on to create a new band with touring drummer Tobias Kjellgren. The formation initially went by the name Reaper, but eventually settled on Soulreaper, named after one of the songs Norman that wrote for the Dissection swansong “Storm Of the Light’s Bane”, to avoid copyright infringement. A lot more influenced by US death metal than Dissection, specifically “Covenant” by Morbid Angel, Soulreaper, who existed from 1997 to 2004, released two albums. Of these two “Written In Blood” was the first, and probably the best at that.

Soulreaper consisted of Dissection alumni Johan Norman (rhythm guitar) and Tobias Kjellgren (drums). Rounding out the line-up are relative unknowns as Christoffer Hermansson (lead guitar), Mikael Lång (bass guitar) and frontman Christoffer Hjertén. Each of the members had experience with prior bands but none ever amounted to anything substantial. Only frontman Hjertén, a more than capable and versatile vocalist in his own right, had prior experience with early black metal band Mastema, but his presence wasn’t able to elevate Soulreaper beyond mere functionality. Soulreaper debuted on Nuclear Blast Records as a result of the connection that the Dissection alumni had with the label. The brand would not prove strong enough and “Written In Blood” was its only for the German label imprint.

As Norman had a hand in Dissection’s more straightforward death metal oriented songs it isn’t much of a surprise to see him return to that particular well. The genre was winning in popularity again after the second wave (symfo) black metal explosion, and the advent of the more brutal subset of the US death metal sound. Yet as crunchy and functional as “Written In Blood” sounds it’s hardly a revitalization of the genre. Its combination of traditional American aggression with a Swedish melodic sensibility works purely on a visceral level, but on a conceptual level Soulreaper is as bland as its album title and vanilla occult lyrical fodder suggests. Soulreaper suffers from a similar fatigue and regression that Deicide and Morbid Angel experienced in the early 2000s.

The semi-acoustic intro to ‘Written In Blood’ is build around a variation of the central melody to the classic Dissection song ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’ visit the website. There are even more ties to Dissection abound on this album. ‘Satanized’ was the signature song and ideological vessel of the shortlived Satanized, a one-off project from Jon Nödtveidt and Johan Norman that released a solitary demo in 1991. The song was recorded in an earlier form on “My Shadow…”, the lone Decameron album from 1996, the death metal band that Tobias Kjellgren figured into before his involvement with Dissection. The strongest tracks of the album are ‘Seal Of Degradation’, ‘Subterreanean Might’ and ‘Labyrinth Of the Deathlord’. ‘Satanized’ on the other hand stands out for all the wrong reasons, and in just how much it differs from the remainder of the album.

The most interesting, and perhaps most telling, aspect of “Written In Blood” is that its strongest songs were co-written by a member no longer involved with the band. Johan Norman wrote ‘Darken the Sign’ in its entirety, and he had a hand in all other songs of the album as well. ‘Ungodly’ was penned with input from bass guitarist Mikael Lång. The trio of ‘Written In Blood’, ‘Subterreanean Might’ and ‘Labyrinth Of the Deathlord’ were co-written by Johan Norman and original lead guitarist Mattias Eliasson. ‘Seal Of Degradation’ was co-written by Johan Norman and Christoffer Hermansson. It seems only logical that Norman and Kjellgren broke ranks with Dissection as they wanted to branch off into more straightforward and less traditionally influenced direction.

“Written In Blood” was recorded at Gain Productions with Dikk Tator producing, and mastered at the prestigious Cutting Room facility in in Stockholm, Sweden. As expected with Nuclear Blast the production is bass-heavy, crunchy and modern. Especially the drums sound incredibly concrete and powerful. The bass guitar has a rumbling deep tone but it never amounts to anything more than providing the required amount of low end rumbling. The cover artwork was rendered by Robert Ekeroth. The original band logo, which only features on this album, was created by Nicklas Rudolfsson. As most things about Soulreaper “Written In Blood” was good, but just not good enough to appeal to a wider audience beyond the one they had established with their involvement in Dissection.

Soulreaper and its debut were eclipsed by bigger bands and album despite its lineage to Dissection, and the power of a major label behind them. While far from terrible “Written In Blood” wasn’t able to hold its own against other Scandinavian, and European, releases of the time. While possessing enough grit and concrete heaviness to appeal to a more American audience “Written In Blood” lacks in truly unique characteristics to differentiate it from other Swedish acts. Norman’s brief connection with Dissection allowed him to launch his own unit, ultimately Soulreaper wouldn’t prove resilient enough to evolve into an entity worth mentioning. “Written In Blood” is too by-the-book to be in any way mandatory.