's been together for over 20 years without ever achieving more than cult success. Their most recent release, 2007's To the Nameless Dead
, was arguably the greatest example to date of their ability to blend black metal, thrash, and Celtic folk melodies, but this reissue of the band's 1995 debut album, with bonus demo tracks and a DVD, shows that while they've come pretty far, they were a group with a strong identity even at the beginning. Frontman Naihmass Nemtheanga switches back and forth between multiple voices -- a high-pitched black metal screech, a low, doomy mutter, and a thrashy bellow -- while the band's buzzsaw riffs and pummeling rhythms keep things roaring along. The music doesn't limit itself to black metal's trebly, 1000 mph blasts, either; the guitars frequently slow down into a melancholy, chiming interplay that's closer in spirit to Burzum
, and there's a surprisingly full bass sound, especially given the vintage (and probable budget) of this recording. Indeed, "To the Ends of the Earth" is so reverbed-out and booming that, if not for the vocals, it could almost be a lost Samhain track. The demos and live stuff appended to this reissue don't add all that much to the package -- they certainly don't demonstrate hitherto unknown aspects of the band's music -- but the album as a whole will provide a welcome history lesson for anybody who came on board with To the Nameless Dead
or its predecessor, 2005's The Gathering Wilderness
. And it's apparently part of a larger effort in that direction; each of the band's first four CDs is going to receive similar treatment in 2009.