[21st June 2013:Norway, Germany, Austria]
[24th June 2013: Europe, Rest of the World]
[25th June 2013: North America]
02. Open The Gates
04. A Gift Beyond Human Reach
05. Faltering Moves
06. Behold the Sun
07. Dawn of Redemption
10. Unveiling The Obscure
Extol is a progressive death metal band from Norway. Since their emergence in the late 90’s, they have been somewhat anomalous in the extreme music scene, being one of a very select few bands who are heralded in their field, despite explicit Christian lyrics. After moderate success early on, they reached their greatest critical success with 2005’s The Blueprint Dives, which earned them award nominations and spots on large European and U.S. tours. Shockingly, the band’s next move was to go on hiatus. Extol will be the first whisper any fans have heard from the band in six years.
This new album is absolutely not fucking around. Reduced to a trio, this is a leaner Extol, both literally and musically. After the hiatus, half of the band went on to Mantric, an extension of an earlier formation of the band Ganglion. Extol sees Peter Espevoll on vocals, David Husvik on drums, and Ole Børud on all guitars. This stripped down lineup offers up an earnest intensity that surely stems from their thin ranks. Historically, trios have a purity of sound, and this album is a crystalline example of that.
It sounds like they have a chip on their shoulder; as if they felt like they had something to prove, despite the hiatus being their decision. The “we’ll show them” attitude would be borderline petulant if the album wasn’t as brilliant as it is. Muscular riffs bulldoze their way into the listener’s ears, clearing a path for dense, luxurious harmonies. This albums feels like a very logical blend of their catalog. It’s heavier and more urgent than The Blueprint Dives or Synergy, but more melodic than their earlier blackened-death releases, Burial and Undeceived. Somehow, the band invokes Mayhem one minute, Steven Wilson the next. It is a truly intoxicating mix, more potent and alluring than anything else the band has done.
Extol isn’t totally flawless, though. There is a single, yet undeniable, blight. Although quite beautiful, the song “Dawn of Redemption” is a pace-killer. This track is too much of a slow burn; it unfolds more than it arrives. Often, that can be a positive trait, but in this case it has the effect of deflating the tension and excitement the preceding songs had built. Most every other track crashes in, kicking up dust, and loudly announcing its intentions. The rest of the songs carve out a unique space for themselves, bustling and lively, but this song just kind of sits there. The omission of this song would have better served the nine other absolutely brilliant songs on the release. Other than that, this album is bulletproof.
It’s a bit of a surprise, really, how well they’ve pulled this album off. By all accounts, the band members have been working apart mostly, in the interim since they split. There has even been something else quietly brewing for some time now. Extol: Of Light And Shade is a documentary film that is to be a retrospective of the band’s placement in, and journey through, the musical landscape. The band claims their religious convictions, combined with the connotations of their genre of choice, have been the cause of controversy and difficulty throughout their career. By description, the band’s resolve and success in the face of these criticisms is to be a central theme. The film is currently in post production, set for a release later this year.
Extol is an inspired resurrection, simultaneously fresh and self-referential. The band, newly svelte, are somehow better than ever. Perhaps there is something to the idea that this band triumphs in adversity. On paper, this album should have been the Hail Mary of three weary hopefuls. Instead the group, shrugging off hiatus-induced lulls, practically scoffing at losing half its members, emerges with their finest work.