Church of Atrocity is the fifth and, so far, final release from Finland's Clandestine Blaze. It would appear that, by this point, the band had become more of a side project of Mikko Aspa, as he was investing more and more time onto Deathspell Omega. In a sense, it's understandable, as DsO had really caught on and was growing in popularity, following 2004's Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice. Mikko was still overflowing with enough creativity to produce a monument of his own, in the form of Deliverers of Faith. However, as 2006 rolled around, he'd already contributed to yet another DsO release (the Kenose E.P.) and was working on material for Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum (an album that I still haven't listened to, all the way through). As a result, he had less and less time for his original band. Though die-hard Clandestine Blaze fans were eagerly awaiting the follow-up to the brilliance of Deliverers of Faith, what they got on the 31st of October 2006 was somewhat of a let-down.
I just happened to check the Northern Heritage website, and was surprised to see that a new album had been released just a week earlier. Since Clandestine Blaze was among the few newer bands that I supported, I quickly ordered the album and eagerly anticipated its arrival. In our frozen apartment, I hastily explored this offering, but it did not meet my expectations. I hoped for something that would follow the approach found on the previous album, but this seemed like a step backward. Also, it came off like something that had been rushed. My theory was that Mikko was too busy with Deathspell Omega to truly immerse himself in this project anymore, thus this served as a farewell to his fans.
The title track is up first, and the initial complaint comes right away. The opening riff has no melody to it; it simply exists to create noise. There is no effect, no atmosphere. It is entirely pointless. This is but an exercise in going through the motions, more or less. It takes about a minute for a haunting melody to creep in, and it seems to be buried a bit, in the mix. It also disappears too quickly. Vocally, this is what would be expected; no change at all. Mikko never had the greatest vocals, but they're fairly easy to identify. Things settle down, briefly, in the middle of the song, before speeding back up. If the point of the lifeless, droning riff is to provide some contrast to the bleak melody that is sparsely interwoven into the song, it was not done to its full potential. It dominates far to much of the song, and makes this one less enjoyable than it should have been.
"Ashes of the Eternal Wanderer" is next, and this is the longest song on the album. This epic clocks in at just under twelve minutes, and possesses much more feeling than the last track. One could almost compare this to "Winter of White Death", from the previous record. It's mid-paced and bearing an overwhelming atmosphere of melancholy and sorrow. The production, on this album, is harsher than on the last few, but it suits the music well enough. The bass stands out on a way not previously heard, adding to the miserable aura. It weighs heavily on your heart, making it difficult to breathe. By the time the vocals enter the soundscape, the feeling is slightly less dismal, simply because Mikko's approach is more evil than tortured. In between verses, we return to the main riff and it slowly drains you of all will to go on living. As those things you need so badly are torn from you, your existence is enveloped by a nightmarish chaos from which you know no escape. The depressing sounds serve only to drown any hopes that you have been clinging to. There is no escaping the pain or the loss. Your hopes and dreams shall be reduced to ashes. The song later transitions to something without form or direction, becoming more atmospheric yet less anguished, as the flames overtake all.
The next song is the obligatory Celtic Frost worship, "Storm of Purification". I've observed that every album must have one of these, regardless of whether or not it fits into the scheme of things. This isn't as boring as some of the others, but I've rarely found them to really flow well with the rest of the material. At any rate, it sounds about a thousand times more evil than anything Tom Warrior was ever involved in, so there's something to be said for it.
"Last Morning of Old North" returns to the feeling established by "Ashes...", being mid-paced, dismal and hauntingly dark. At his best, Mikko is among the elite in creating a truly black and hopeless atmosphere through his music. At times, it becomes unreal in a sense, going beyond his predecessors in terms of creating something that can only be described as abysmal and otherworldy. Beyond the opening moments, the song picks up in speed and would best be compared to Transilvanian Hunger-era Darkthrone, though being 100% identifiable as Clandestine Blaze. I've always felt that it is perfectly fine to have obvious influences, so long as you've added something unique to your own writing abilities, to make it different. Later in the song, the tremolo riffs and fast drumming gives way to a return of the opening melody, filling your mind with thoughts of misery and self-torment. The lyrics of this song are among the most interesting, as they obviously refer to the problems being face by Northern Europe, regarding immigration and the way in which most of Europe is being given away to outsiders, while they willingly let this happen and do nothing to defend their homeland. With this in mind, it becomes all the more depressing.
This is followed by "Frozen Angel", a song that starts out with a nice old school Black Metal sound. This one has more of the old Celtic Frost feeling, though filtered through Darkthrone as opposed to coming straight from Morbid Tales. By that, I mean that it really sounds like something taken from Darkthrone's interpretation of Hellhammer / Celtic Frost. It's a fairly decent track that never really builds up much speed, but there's the sense that it could have been a little better.
The final track is "Unforgiven Acts", which takes the listener back to the Darkthrone-inspired tremolo melodies and fast yet primitive drumming. This songs features memorable riffs and could be compared to the final song from the previous album, in terms of structure. It utilizes similar sound effects, in an effort to produce the same nightmarish effect. The end result is not as profound, but this is one of the better songs on the album.
Church of Atrocity has its moments, but I don't feel that it is the album that Mikko was capable of giving us, nor do I think that it is a proper finishing point for Clandestine Blaze. One can only hope that, once the hype surrounding DsO dies down a bit, he may have time to really develop his ideas and make another solo album that reaches its full potential. While the songs on here are kind of hit and miss, none of them are bad. There are a few good songs and a few that needed more time and energy put into them. In the end, the good moments make the album worthwhile, so long as you're not expecting another Deliverers of Faith.