Taking its inspiration from "the horrors of old world Europe: atrocity, murder, and Norse Heathenism", Stonehaven's sophomore album, Concerning Old-Strife And Man-Banes (Old-Strife and Man-Banes are kennings that mean, respectively, "historical woes" and "swords"), begins convincingly enough with 'Suffering The Swine Array' providing as much in the way of black metal revolt as it does galloping riffs, structural dynamics, and malevolent devastation. 'Death Fetter' brings the same level of intensity as well as dynamic diversity, the feel and groove changes throughout the piece accentuating the dark atmosphere. But with 'Of The White And Frozen Walls', the similarities across the album begin to emerge. As the album proceeds, it's apparent that the raw, primal black metal of Concerning Old-Strife And Man-Banes revolves around the repetition of simple structures: openings that slowly evolve, tension mounting as more layers emerge, and then the floodgates open for the malevolent and sinister intensity to spew forth. Though they are an impressive mix of slow-, mid-, and fast-paced tracks that mix folk melodies, black metal malice and dynamic control very well, that dynamic control is restricted to a few tricks that re-emerge time and again as the album proceeds. The drums play similar patterns in many of the songs (such as 'Of The White And Frozen Walls', 'Coins Under Corpses', and 'Cutting The Necks Of Upstarts'); and the riffs, in being played for what feels like an age, means their impact is diminished and the tracks (and so too the album) suffer for it. With the brutality of centuries of battle and suffering at the centre of the album, the repetition of persistent riffs and repetitive drum patterns is no doubt intended to lull the listener into a near-hypnotic state so the weight of the tracks and their historical depth can be fully absorbed, yet the result is, at times, the opposite. 'Death Fetter' at just over five minutes and 'Sword Rape' at just under seven minutes both feel right and their intensity not once diminishes. But 'Addressing The Scorn Pole' and 'Coins Under Corpses', for instance, drag on, their "message" being clearly stated long before they are over. The result is that at sixty minutes, Concerning Old-Strife And Man-Banes loses the force that Stonehaven would have liked it to bear.
But the album does have many a high point. The aforementioned 'Death Fetter', 'Sword Rape', and 'Cutting The Necks Of The Upstarts' are solid tracks, and the eight minute 'Suffering The Swine Array' in particular, show that Stonehaven can write powerful and intense epics. The album bears its fair share of riffs and complex layers that many would kill for. The lead work is primitive and melodic, expressive without battling for the central role of the tracks; the vocals range from tortured screams to black metal bile and cheerless, miserable cries; and the production lends the lyrical subjects of violence and mayhem in the name of religious fervour their heavy and dark edge. Putting such a subject into musical form is quite the challenge, and Stonehaven's depiction is definitely worth checking out.
- Suffering the Swine Array
- Death Fetter
- Of the White Fall and Frozen Walls
- Addressing the Scorn Pole
- Coins Under Corpses
- Cutting the Necks of the Upstarts
- Sword Rape
- Observe the Symbol