Release year: 2020
German three-piece Zwiespalt make no attempts to conceal what they’re all about: even the promo text states clearly that these guys are into 90’s black metal and that’s from where they draw inspiration, and that’s what they’re offering on this, their first album. Which, incidentally, is also their first public release.
Well, you gotta respect honesty, right? I mean, much better to come out clear and be what you are with pride than to try to conceal it under a barrage of fancy words and lofty expressions.
From the bat, if you’ve ever heard a raw black metal album from the 90’s, Ambivalenz will feel familiar to you. The speedily plodding, organic sounding drums, the almost complete absence of bass, the raw-yet-melodic tremolo-picking guitars, the croaking vocals. Ah yes, stylewise, this is a blast from the past!
And a very enjoyable one at that, too.
The promo sheet says the trio have particularly looked to Norway for inspiration, but the end results don’t sound particularly Norwegian to me. Instead, were it not for the rather clear and balanced sound, this could go for one of the countless raw demos or albums popping out from continental Europe during the time. Bands who had a big chance of ending up on one of those “second tier” labels like Last Episode. Undeniably, there is a lot of Darkthrone in the riffs, and so on, but still: to me this sounds more like your random demo from Germany, anno 1997, than pure Darkthrone emulation.
I know, I know: the above paragraph might sound like I’m calling Zwiespalt shit. I mean, after all, there was a lot of shit coming out from the German demo scene in the mid-to-late nineties. And from all other demo scenes, for that matter. There was some utterly brilliant stuff, a lot of absolutely horrible stuff… and then, that sort of middle-tier stuff that was kind of unoriginal, kind of run-of-the-mill, often a bit faceless, but still thoroughly enjoyable. If you were there, you know what I mean.
And that’s what Zwiespalt sounds like to me. In the best possible sense. They sound like they’ve overdosed on second wave black metal and in a burst of youthful enthusiasm created their own band who play as fast as their skills will allow, with tremolo picking bordering on the limits of their dexterity, and songs basically built around this idea of the drums pounding away with abandon, the guitarist tremolo picking more or less non-stop and the singer sounding as demonic and ghastly as possible. The bass player is probably looking for the cord to plug his instrument in. And it’s sort of brilliant, because it sounds so authentic. Even though I wager the members are closer to being middle-aged than teenagers.
But that’s what I like about this album: it sounds real in a way that, say, pure Darkthrone worship wouldn’t sound. It sounds sort of like they wanted to encapsulate the feeling of discovering the black metal demo underground for the first time, starting your own first serious band, the one that gets somewhere, and being determined to be the grimmest and evilest around but not really being that original.
In a nutshell, Ambivalenz really, really brings to mind the murky underground of 90’s black metal. And when the songs are good, if not particularly memorable, and the production is leagues above some of the material from that age… well, this is not only a pleasant nostalgia trip, it’s a bona fide good album. Not original, not innovative, not forward-looking. But good.
And that’s enough.