Welcome one and all to the inaugural run of Into the Grave, a semi-regular piece where we comprehensively rank one artist’s discography. Not only will we discuss the artist and their catalogue but also why they matter so much to us as individuals. The rankings, of course, will be wholly subjectively and if you don’t agree, chime in with your own lists and opinions but be prepared to defend your sonic turf, warrior’s style (Come out and play-e-yay).
In this edition, J Coleman ranks Dissection‘s output, from best to worst. Or in this case, top pick to bottom pick.
As the sacrificial lamb to this slaughter, I get to choose the first band we’ll cover. I racked my brain, going down every mentally categorized metal I had stored away since I was a young man getting into the metal game. After much deliberation and reflection, the choice was made. Much like the traveler in Ghostbusters popping up in Ray’s subconscious without thought, it came to me, the irrefutable, often imitated, never duplicated satanic calling of Sweden’s own, Di-fucking-ssection.
Forgoing the usual biographical ho hum malaise, let me begin by telling you a little story. The year was 2002. I had morphed from a pimply faced, greasy haired teenage thrasher into a pimply faced quasi adult man child, looking to up my heaviness in all things steel. I went on my normal record store hunting trips, determined to spend my measly pay check on new and uncharted bands that I knew were awaiting me in their wooden CD warehouse bins. As always, I started my journey with the letter ‘A’ and continued onward. This was still in the time where you were able to judge books by their covers and when I saw the purple and black hues of the classic Necrolord painted cover of Dissection’s debut The Somberlain, I knew this was my shit.
The vampiric black coach, traveling through a blackened cemetery at night, ushered forward by its unholy horsemen, it was like a scene from any number of the wonderful 70s and 80s horror films I loved so much. I turned to the back cover to see four demure and intimidating individuals glaring into my soul telling me I had to hear their mission and I had to know what The Somberlain was about. Led by singer/guitarist and overall visionary Jon Andreas Nodtveidt, I was in for a welcome black metal intervention and thus began my life changing trip into the bloody anti cosmic realm of Dissection.
1. The Somberlain: After reading the introduction I’m sure this isn’t a shock, but The Somberlain is my absolute premium pick for the top of the heap of Dissection (and it’s a fairly small heap unfortunately). Not only is this my top pick for Dissection, but this is without question, my favorite black metal album of all time. Sure, it’s easy to love the album that introduces us to an artist, but looking outside of the glass menagerie, The Somberlain still holds up as a beast of a first album.
Taking tracks from their prior 4 demos (1991-1993), Dissection managed to construct a debut that would shatter my perception of what black metal was and could be. Opening with the utterly under rated “Black Horizons” I knew these guys were in a league of their own. When the mid-section of this song erupts into its acoustic break that climbs until its ultimate culmination with Jon’s best rendition of King Diamond, consider my mind blown. Not only did Dissection have the chops to hang with any thrash metal band, but they, and by they, I mean Jon, could actually write brilliantly composed songs. Let’s not forget however, that Dissection, at this time, were very much a functional band, rounded out with a more than competent lineup of Jon Zwetsloot on guitars, Ole Ohman on drums and Peter Palmdahl on bass. Not too shabby.
Next up is the title track and this monster begins with a riff that would become the gothic style guitar harmony synonymous with the ‘Dissection sound.’ If you need further proof of this track’s utter bad-assery just check YouTube for all the bands (*cough-Watain-cough*) that still cover this mother fucker, absolutely brilliant.
Then, “Crimson Towers” greets the listener. A brilliant classical guitar interlude that just adds to the mysterious atmosphere of what Dissection were. This showed, though the message was dark, that there was a beauty and deeper layer of depth to these guys that wasn’t being followed that often in the early 90’s.
From there you carry on into “A Land Forlorn” and “Frozen,” I mean the hits don’t stop, but for my money, it’s the criminally under loved tune “Mistress of the Bleeding Sorrow,” which was originally on the 1992 The Somberlain Demo. This doomy, brooding stand out not only showcases the dynamics of how great these guys were early on, but contains everything wonderful about their sound in one mini epic of a song. Give it another listen and you’ll understand.
“Feathers Fell” ends the affair and what you have is an absolute darker than pitch black classic that still crushes pretty much anything that calls itself black metal today.
2. Reinkaos: You thought Storm of the Light’s Bane was next. Don’t lie. That’s okay, because I’m about to explain why Reinkaos should sit very comfortably at the number two spot in the unholy crown of Dissection. So, with Jon spending a bit of time away in jail, we as fans were left to ponder the future of Dissection. Would there be any new material at all? If so, what would it sound like? Jon teased with rumors of what the new and improved Dissection would be. He even had ol’ ex-Emperor (and fellow ex-con) Bard “Faust” Eithun signed up to take the drum throne until he figured out it was probably a probation violation or something (in the end, the skin bashing job went to a more than competent Tomas Asklund from another personal favorite Swedish black metal band called Dawn, but that’s another topic). This all led on to a pretty big build up, so, what did we get?
The first answer came in the demo-ish quality rumblings of the 2004 Maha Kali single. While the mid paced melodicism and backing female vocals left many in the cold, I for one, embraced that Dissection were not resting on their past laurels and embraced the newly establish left hand path. Then came a title-less 2005 Promo with demo versions of Reinkaos tracks “Starless Aeon” and “Xeper-I-Set.” While the newer songs left many crying out for Nights Blood 2.0, I was elated and when the final version of Reinkaos was unleashed to the world in 2006, all was confirmed.
Forging an absolute mammoth comeback, Reinkaos is a bear of an album that is packed from top to bottom with all killer and no filler. People lampooned this as Gothen-thrash because of the hooky guitar melodies and polished production sheen, but the thing is, that stuff has always been a part of Dissection’s DNA. Sure, there is debate that Dissection softened and the songs were slower and bla bla bla, but if you actually look under the hood at Reinkaos, it’s anything but softer or slower.
Seemingly reinvigorated, Jon specifically wrote 11 tracks that never waiver in their purpose and never waste a second of their time on over staying their welcome. Every track on this mother fucker rips. Go, right now, and listen to “Black Dragon” or “Dark Mother Divine” and tell me they don’t hold their own against anything from the band’s prior two full lengths. To add to the (hell) fire here, this is the best lyrical content and vocal performance in the whole Dissection canon. While The Somberlain and Storm of the Light’s Bane are layered in mystical, semi adolescent satanic verses, Reinkaos is a heady anti-cosmic manifesto that is a deliberate and upfront fist to the face, not making any apologies for what it has to say.
If you think I’m full of shit, fine, but saying this album is sub-par because you can’t get over the amazing production, excellent musicianship, stellar song writing and crushing lyrical content is on you.
3. Storm of the Light’s Bane: Ah yes, what is arguable the tippy top for a lot of folks, and I whole heartedly understand this. Make no mistake, Storm is a brilliant album. 1995’s Storm of the Light’s Bane was a turning point for Dissection. Released at the height of the band’s ‘extracurricular activities,’ Storm of the Light’s Bane pieces together elements of black metal, thrash and death metal in what is without question their fastest and heaviest album.
Opening with “At the Fathomless Depths,” Storm of the Light’s Bane would forever shape black metal with the first real track, “Nights Blood.” To understate the importance of this track would be a folly on my end. This IS, without question, one of the greatest metal songs of all time and probably in the very top echelon for all black metal (easily seated alongside anything from early Mayhem ie: De Mysterious era and Darkthrone Under a Funeral Moon era). Not to rest on the evil brilliance of “Nights Blood,” “Unhallowed” is almost its equal in terms of dark majesty and epic riffing, earning its place in almost every live set the band played until the end of their career.
“Where Dead Angels Lie” finishes out this trifecta of evil brilliance, haunting you with its melodic flourishes and beyond catchy, yet still very diabolical, chorus. There is a tangible evil that emanates from these first four songs that is something I would categorize as polarizing and magical. Maybe this is why from here on is where Storm of the Light’s Bane gets dicey for me. Not that the rest of it is bad, not at-fucking-all. There is just a bit more death metal heft tossed into tracks like the title track and “Soulreaper” that change the dynamics of the B side of the album, and while brilliant and better than pretty much anything else in the gamut of melodic black metal, it’s these few tracks and their division in my personal tastes that places Storm of the Light’s Bane as third amongst the normal full lengths here. Let the hate mail flow.
4. The Past is Alive, The Early Mischief: Ending my list is The Past is Alive, The Early Mischief. This is a compilation, I know, but I feel like its importance shouldn’t be over looked and it deserves its place on the list of mandatory releases for Dissection. Whereas most bands early material gives you a juvenile sub-par look in rose colored glasses that is usually more cash grab than touch stone, The Early Mischief really gives insight into what a brilliant and ahead of their time band Dissection were. From the death metal leaning of “Severed into Shreds” to the less refined versions of songs that would continue to appear on demos leading up to The Somberlain, The Past is Alive is mandatory listening that deserves another spin on a rainy day.
So, that is my list, blackened warts and all. I didn’t include the live albums and the fantastic Where Dead Angels Lie EP (with its classic cover of Tormentor’s “Elisibeth Bathori” and Slayer’s “Antichrist”), while they are also vital to the Dissection lineage for the legions of fans, they only briefly give us what the above albums are in their entirety, and that’s the point, to examine a band in its raw and untainted element. And on that idea, it’s important to consider the impact and importance that Dissection had, especially with their relatively short output of releases. While the world will never know of any future Dissection material, the past is very much alive.
Keep those black candles burning folks, until next time.
– J. Coleman