Say what you like about Christmas, it is clearly the perfect time to revel in seething, anti-Christian sentiment. "Bab Al On" is rich in the non-festive traditions of second wave Norwegian black metal, and few bands have been so consistent in their myopic adherence to that ancient code than DØDSENGEL, at least over the past decade. Pick any one of their previous four albums and a blasphemous, twisted and often wildly atmospheric time is guaranteed. Their fifth is far more expansive than its predecessors: 73 minutes in length, it flows like the river Styx, gliding through a surprisingly diverse array of alternately vicious and vivid vistas.
The core of DØDSENGEL's sound remains true to their original mission. They play a fast and ragged strain of Norwegian black metal, redolent of all the right things but slavish to none. "In The Beginning" combines the frostbitten attack of the old school with dark ambient interludes and wispy hints of melody. At a slower pace, as on the horrified sprawl of "In The Heart Of The World" and the mad-eyed melodrama of "Waters Of Unravelling", they ooze deviance and disdain alongside the expected windswept grandeur. But it is songs like the sinewy "Hour Of Contempt" that hit hardest, as this band's militant vision is used as a weapon of violence, bereft of mercy. There is madness here too, both in vocalist / creative mastermind Kark's giddy array of snarls and shrieks and in the songs' tendency to veer off on chaotic tangents.
The closing "Abomination Gate" tops everything that goes before it. "Bab Al On" loves its interstitial freakouts: "Annihilation Mantra" is the iciest of drone mirages; "Agnus Dei" is plainsong from Hell's depths. But the album's endgame combines all of those elements to launch one, opulent, 11-minute downward plunge, "bathed in annihilation's light." "Abomination Gate" is full of seamless transitions, from brutality to bliss and back again, and heroic riffs that always aspire to outlast the next great crescendo.
It is an astonishing piece of music that almost overshadows the rest of "Bab Al On". Not quite, though. This is a giant splurge of nefarious ideas that needs to be experienced in its overpowering entirety. Play it loud during Christmas dinner, perhaps.