You can argue all day about “atmospheric black metal” as a genre tag, the signposts that mark one band or album as indicative of the label or movement and another not. Is it merely an increased emphasis on melody? Keyboards (but of course without treading into symphonic territory)? A slower pace, better production? Some mix of all of the above? Oh shit…am I talking about post-black metal now?
I kid (a little bit…), but one of the things I’ve come to understand and respect about black metal over the years is how versatile it can be while simultaneously being clearly identifiable as such. It’s a facility with this musical language Wiegedood is intimately familiar with, and new LP De Doden Hebben het Goed II takes the credit earned from their debut and doubles down on everything that worked to great results.
Wiegedood (Belgian for “Crib Death” so take that with you when you go) blasted on the scene with their debut De Doden Hebben het Goed (more fun: “The Dead Have It Good”) in 2015, but its trio of members have been serving time in other bands that don’t couch in the metal red department: Amenra, Oathbreaker and Rise and Fall. Bringing that musical lineage together made for an excellent debut, ripping tremolo lines and blasting drums cutting through layer after layer of furious and despairing black metal. Songs like “Svanesang” are exquisitely crafted, revealing depths and subtle changes through a blistering assault of guitars and screams. Wiegedood innately understand the importance of dynamics when you’re moving at over 200 beats per minute, and the fact that the pace never feels like a slog (it helps immensely that both albums are only 4 tracks at just over 30 minutes) shows the grasp the band has over their material.
So, do the Dead still have it good? It would be a disservice to simply say De Doden Hebben het Goed II lives up to the promise of its predecessor. It’s very much the same in spirit: the four tracks from opener “Ontzielling” to closer “Smeekbede” display the same painstaking attention to structure and craft without feeling remotely like it was built in a laboratory. Each track flows seamlessly into the next, really giving the sense of a single statement rather than a collection of songs. There’s also a noticeable uptick in aggression and fluidity between the changes, perhaps owing to the amount of time touring together helped congeal the band into an even more cohesive force. It also certainly helped that both Gilles Demolder (guitars) and Wim Sreppoc (drums) both spent a large portion of 2016 blasting through Oathbreaker’s Rheia. And while there may not be an overt link between the two albums, repeated listens show that later focus when it comes to changes in the tempo or structure. It’s in the hypnotic psych daze that appears about four minutes into “Cateract” and the pummeling abuse that emerges a few minutes later. You hear it in the soft and harrowing opening to the title track that builds for a steady two and a half minutes until it crescendos to a cavernous drum fill before stomping off to a mid-paced arpeggiated vocal drone. Every minute of the album contains secrets and experiments that stretch the boundaries of black metal while simultaneously planting its roots deep into the Norwegian soil of its beginnings.
We’re still no closer to the mystery of whether Wiegedood are atmospheric black metal or not, but hopefully that’s fast becoming an irrelevant question — both for Wiegedood or any band. Black metal has grown and permeated into a multitude of different shades, all owing to a black spirit of rebellion and loss. A much easier question is whether Wiegedood overcame the dreaded sophomore slump, and to that I can give a resounding yes.