Kansas City's STONEHAVEN have singlehandedly reignited my fire for black metal with a scorcher called "Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes". Not only has this 59-minute album of Scandinavian-rotted, traditional black metal kept my interest from one end to the other, it has been without hesitation that I would return for repeat spins and enjoy the experience all over again. And it's not because "Concerning Old-Strife and Man-Banes" (the title a Norse Kenning) is full of catchy choruses and conventional song structures. Rather, it is merely the case that each of these eight songs are marvelously arranged, packed as they are with killer riff after killer riff and buzzing with that indefinable black metal energy, aura even, that raises an album from good to special. In other words, this one's got "it".
Best of all for folks that don't want their black metal getting too far "out there," STONEHAVEN treads familiar ground without sound like indistinct mimicry, keeping things interesting in the process. An admitted TAAKE influence is heard, though not necessarily any more so than that of CRAFT (especially the grooves), HORNA, and early DARKTHRONE, just to name a few. What it really comes down to is the adeptness with which STONEHAVEN lock into a groove one moment, then peel out into a neck-wrecking speed romp or induces involuntary head-nod with a folk cadence, all without ever causing one to glance at the wristwatch or cell phone. The bar is set high in that respect from the start with a great opening track entitled "Suffering the Swine-Array", the first of several cuts that stab and stick with so many attention-grabbing riffs, shifts, and minor-note runs. The tune also happens to feature one of the album's standout moments when the intensity is taken down a notch and the band busts out a marvelous folk/pagan metal riff/tempo. Just the way those notes are squeezed out of the hands of guitarists Nick VanWalleghem and Caleb May makes the senses tingle. There are so many moments just like that across the album a — a rolling SATYRICON-like groove on "Sword-Rape", the two-beat jaunts of "Coins Under Corpses", the movement between fluid melody lines and dissonant-bent harmonies on "Of the White-Fall and Frozen Walls", it goes on and on and on.
Not to take anything away from the very capable rhythm section of drummer Jackson Ferris and bassist Clinton Stanaland, but vocalist/lyricist Steve Holdeman is a crucial piece to in the completion o this puzzle. His is a more-intelligible-than-average shriek of some substance, his howls well placed and chilling. Holdeman's lyrics are the kind that immediately form images in the mind that fit so well with the forested pagan darkness inhabited by STONEHAVEN through the stories told
"Concern Old-Strife and Man-Banes" is a complete black metal package, one that STONEHAVEN is able to translate to the live arena with verve, chemistry, and unusually tight playing. As you've surely gathered by now, no paradigms have been shifted nor models reformulated by the Kansas City quintet; it is merely a case of black magical energy, white hot performance, and memorable composing. The best black metal has little to do with geographic location and everything to do with desire, passion, creativity, and chops. STONEHAVEN's got 'em all.