Despite following the Crepusculo Negro bands since more or less their beginnings, I missed 'War Cry Lament' when it came out, so I didn't listen to Shataan until their appearance on the fantastic 'Desert Dances and Serpent Sermons' collaboration album with "Caminando del destino / Desert Smoke / Wells Run Dry", a long eleven minute track where they showed a tremenduously varied and personal vision of Black Metal, which ended up in making me doubt which track I preferred from that record, Volahn's or theirs, although "Chamalcan" was a great competitor.
Fortunately for me, just one year later Iron Bonehead Productions released the first full-length of this California based three piece, which by the way includes Mr. Volahn on the bass duties (and in charge of the layout too) and Mr. Murdunbad, from Arizmenda, Dolorvotre and Kuxan Suum, on the drums. And I say fortunately because I couldn't stop playing to their previously released track and impatiently needed more from this band, and because 'Weigh of the Wolf' is like an improved and even more interesting version of what Shataan offered there.
In the eight tracks included on this LP, divided between "Awaken" and "Burial" sides, Shaatan give us their very personal vision of what Black Metal should be, with a departure from the place where Nordic Black Metal (where most of the Crepúsculo Negro bands found their main inspirations) would cross its path with as different styles as could be Prog'Rock, Folk (obviously, I'm not speaking about pseudo-Celtic or Viking stuff here) or even slight hints of Post-Punk/Psichobilly (not many, but the first track has definitely some of that). Including, as obvious as it may sound, but just in case you still don't know the musicians behind this, astonishing performances by the three men behind the instruments, and most especially from Volahn, who shows here what a great axeman he can be outside of playing violent stuff.
Nevertheless, the production of the record is probably what first surprised me when I put it on the turntable, with a very subtle distorsion which might shock a bit when one expects some darker and maybe rougher sound, but definitely helps distinguishing every detail (of the many) the guitar and bass lines depict, something that would definitely become more complex given how twisted they can get sometimes; as an example, the last part of "Release", where both instruments together with the drums fall into an amazing sonic spiral. 'Weigh of the Wolf' was recorded at the Black Twilight Studio and then sent to Arthur Rizk (who has been working with such different artists as Power Trip, Prurient or Inquisition on their new record) to mix and master it at Solomon's Gate studio. And the result can only be described as perfect for the very atmospheric yet raw and sharp sound Shataan draw with their music, making the songs reach some kind of ethereal/floating texture without ever loosing their rabid core.
The second part of the surprise came from the unusual way to manage the vocals, at least for most of the Black Metal bands one can see nowadays, because they are clean and, most of the time, slightly high-pitched, mostly reminding of Bathory (especially on 'Blood On Ice', and the best example would be "Chamber"), maybe being one of the reasons the limitation of the man behind the voice reaching the higher notes, which I do not mind at all as he still performs them with a notorious feeling. In some very few cases I could think of the cleanest voices used in Borkanagar in their older albums too. And that main voice is most of the time supported by another whispered vocal track with a good dose of reverb, which makes the ambiance a bit more ghostly. On "Night Comes Along", the last track of the album, thoguh he shows us what an amazing tone he has when going into lower regions, reminding me a lot of Mr. Cowgill of King Dude, maybe due to the use of acoustic guitars too, and being this the most different song of the record, with quite a different vibe but still having its place.
Above that, there are two more things that differentiate Shataan from any other Black Metal band, and it's the use of a flute, in a very Western/desert kind of way (makes me think of the Kung Fu series for some reason), which as weird as it may sound, has an amazing and very original effect, and secondly and maybe even more important, the use of whistles, which is even more rare, probably for the first time in the story of Black Metal, and very (very) chilling (their appearance, in "Stand Apart", makes the song even more surrialistic than the already strange feeling of listening to a Rush cover). I should complain to Mr. Shataan for not using them more often though, as there's plenty of place for them.
But this two differentiating details, as well as the ones commented sooner on this review, would obviously not be enough to make this album as astounding as it is if it wasn't for how majestically these guys bring you back to those golden years when bands such as the already named Borknagar, Ulver or Ved Buens Ende painted their own vision of the genre with a different palette and yet manage to sound as Shataan and no one else thanks to the still personal brush-strokes they've thrown on the record, for how superbly the progressions are developed from the most meditating mid-paced parts, where the drums still keep a very dynamic pace, to the faster and yet quite technicaly inextricable ones, with a lot of ingenious twists and tempo turnovers from all three musicians (and here I must say again, and very honestly, congratulations Mr. Volahn), and last but not least, for the mystical soul-tripping music they released in order to offer us a unique voyage to the other side.
This is the kind of record proving Black Metal has stilll a lot to offer in terms of progression, so if you're searching for something far from the most usual topics of the genre nowadays, but keeping the feeling and mysticism of the essence attached to it, get a copy of 'Weigh of the Wolf'.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.