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.

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The third Dark Funeral is as much a continuation as it is a regression. The album is but a carbon-copy of the vastly superior “Vobiscum Satanas”. “Diabolis Interium” was where Dark Funeral started its gradual descent into parody, and its valiant attempts to come across as misanthropic as possible only end up pushing them into comedic territory. Outside of a glossier production “Diabolis Interium” is as regressive as its, stronger but no less artistically vacuous, predecessor.

A Dark Funeral album wouldn’t be complete without the requisite line-up changes. “Diabolis Interium” was the recording debut of drummer Matte Modin with Dark Funeral, and the only to feature second guitarist Matti Mäkelä. It was the last album to have Bröberg pulling double duty as bass guitarist. The album was penned in its entirety by sole founding member Mikael Svanberg. Of the two major Swedish black metal units Marduk would ultimately prove the most prolific and resilient.

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“Diabolis Interium” is consistent in style with the preceding album. Svanberg’s melodic sensibility is true to his Swedish heritage but his riffs remain as limited and stagnant as it had always been. Keeping up with the tradition of Latin album titles “Diabolis Interium” translates to “Devil Within”. Where in the past Dark Funeral was at least mildly interesting because of its highly misanthropic lyrics, here they seem to become increasingly toothless. Various aspects of the album conspired against the band, the production and goofy artwork most prominently among them.

The abstract nature of the album title would allow for interesting explorations of a variety of Satanic theories, yet little of note is actually on offer on the album. The band’s steady lyrical decline first manifests itself in this instance. Most of the songs revolve around depictions of hell and Satan. Other themes include anti-Christian rhetoric (‘Hail Murder’, ‘Diabolis Interium’, ‘Thus I Have Spoken’), witchcraft (‘An Apprentice Of Satan’), and vampirism (‘Heart Of Ice’). In keeping with the tradition started on the preceding album ‘Goddess Of Sodomy’ is a thinly-veiled love song (akin to ‘Ravenna Strigoi Mortii’ from “Vobiscum Satanas”) wherein Bröberg describes his want for an unspecified vampiric succubus.

The majority of the record is blisteringly fast with the kind of swirling melodies one has come to associate with Sweden. The lowpoint of the album happens early with the lamentable ‘Goddess Of Sodomy’, a midpaced track that opens with the samples of moaning women. It is the same tiring and tired trick that Tampa, Florida death metal outfit Diabolic pulled on “Vengeance Ascending” with the track ‘Celestial Pleasures’ with similar lukewarm results. Like “Nightwing” era Marduk before them the track evinces just how limited the songcraft of Dark Funeral, or Svanberg rather, truly is. ‘Thus I Have Spoken’ has a few more pronounced slower sections.

The album was recorded and mixed at Abyss Studio, Sweden with Peter Tägtgren producing and Lars Szöke engineering. It was mastered by Peter In de Betou at Tailor Maid Production in Landsvägen. As expected considering the year of release and what facility handled it the production is bass-heavy and crunchy. “Diabolis Interium” that bathes in a typical Abyss Studio digital sheen and nearly synthetic feel while being tonally rich. The fuzzy, hazy digital guitar tone is an odd choice after two records famous for their crunchy tones. The production on “Diabolis Interium” is pristine, and very much what one would expect of a death metal band, guitar tone excepted.

Instead of working with Kristian Wåhlin as on its debut Svanberg allocated artwork and graphics by Daniel Valeriani. The design choices made here would be reflected in the subsequent two albums. It was the first of three orange-centric album covers. “Diabolis Interium” chooses burnt orange which is usually associated with pride, tension and aggressive self-assertion. That the album reveals its true colors and asserts itself as being completely interchangeable with its predecessor is then only expected. Interestingly, it uses the identical template for the production notes as “Vobiscum Satanas” did, only with a different shade of color. The production notes even incorrectly spell the name of Peter In de Betou on the Necropolis edition of the album which is frankly unforgivable considering this was released on a, supposedly, professional label.

If anything “Diabolis Interium” proves that Dark Funeral’s incendiary debut “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” was solely the work of guitarist David Parland. Where “Vobiscum Satanas” at least attempted to recreate Parland’s distinct riffing “Diabolis Interium” has resigned itself to superficially imitating its superior predecessor, and has Dark Funeral at the end of its already limited creative rope. Nothing about “Diabolis Interium” is particularly engaging, and Dark Funeral was as vanilla and populist as they came at this point. The next two albums would be superficially identical but with the inclusion of non-black metal writing - and production techniques.