Extraordinary claims are being made about this third album from Sweden's highly rated students of the dark arts. " 'Sheol' will be to Sweden what IMMORTAL's 'Sons of Northern Darkness' was to the National Pride of Norway in 2002," trumpet the record company. Hey, thanks for the revelation and all that, but we're sure there'll be perhaps the odd Norwegian who found IMMORTAL's facepaint jobs alone just a little too ridiculous to start running flags up the pole in celebration.
Then, more reasonably and understandably for a label, they go on to claim "there is not ONE track that doesn't kick ass." Not quite, we say, but we'd meet them halfway and say that "Sheol" is a pleasingly consistent album that perhaps five years ago would've been considered a pivotal work. Now, though, with the near-explosion of black metal into the mainstream conscience, NAGLFAR have much more to do in cementing their superiority.
Rather than seething and gnashing and just throwing everything at the god-fearing listener at full pelt, "Sheol" (Hebrew for "hell", incidentally) is actually quite a controlled animal. In a roundabout way, it actually takes cues from the guy who came up with the cover artwork (DARK TRANQUILLITY's prolific Niklas Sundin) and sounds a tad like those Swedish heavy mentalists geared up a few notches. Yes, there are blast beats all over "Black God Aftermath", "Of Gorgons Spawned Through Witchcraft", and "Unleash Hell", but you couldn't really term it extreme in the sense of being harsh or jarring.
And the extras to give it that original sheen? Well, there isn't anything here that re-invents the wheel, so to speak. But then, it's probably all in the atmos with these sort of things, which is where "Sheol" scores highly — phasing in those cold Northern keyboard flourishes to really good effect without them becoming obtrusive or stupidly carnival-esque.
Black metal with poise, imagination and craft? NAGLFAR aren't yet the standard-bearers, but they're marching purposefully on alongside the DIMMU BORGIRs of this world.