Second Skin of Harlequin

Written by: AP on 29/06/2007 17:59:51

When I think of black metal, I think of satanic mantras written in blood on the walls of burning churches. I think of Varg Vikernes - better known as Count Grishnackh - thrusting a meat knife through the skull of former band mate Øystein Aarseth, also known as Euronymous. I think of grandpa Ole swinging in a rocking chair humming Darkthrone's "Summer of the Diabolical Holocaust". In short, I think of Norway. The last thing that comes to mind is Denmark.

But Illnath has been tasked with defusing that prejudice. The band's sophomore album "Second Skin of Harlequin" is heavily influenced by Cradle of Filth and might be just what Denmark needs to make church-torching the popular sport it is further north. On the other hand, even though the band's roots in black metal are undeniable, it is the symphonic elements that dominate the album. Although this is something Dimmu Borgir- and Cradle of Filth fans are all too familiar with, and even though fans of such black metal might have anticipated a more original approach, it's impossible to make symphonic black metal without symphony. It's impossible to even spell symphonic black metal without symphony. However, one distinct characteristic that Illnath does have is that where the aforementioned bands' melodies tend to cross into the majestic and apocalyptic, Illnath's melodies are carefully instrumented to sound dark and picturesque as if to soundtrack the horror movie Tim Burton never directed. Add the mannequin of the front cover and folk metal riffs here and there and Illnath's vast soundscape is complete.

One of the downsides of "Second Skin of Harlequin" is that it copies Cradle of Filth in more than just one way. Just like their greatest idols, neither Illnath take themselves too seriously, as illustrated by the cover art's green-haired mannequin with a face covered in black metal face paint and the torso of a pop tard; not to mention the album's title that takes a rip on a very serious genetic skin disease (Harlequin type ichthyosis) that causes the human skin to produce too much skin which consequently needs to be manually shed several times a day. Cruel, but clever.

I'm usually against underproducing albums for greater effect, but in this case it works. The drums have been dampened considerably and then sharpened to give a pulsating, raw sound, and bass has overall been decreased to give room for extravagant melodies. Bjørn Holter's vocal delivery dots the i, and though it's painfully sharp and crude, it never crosses into the instrumental channels.

Where Cradle of Filth swerved in the direction of thrash metal with their latest release, Illnath has stuck with Cradle's original niche and painted it red and white in order to make a case for Danish black metal. The album is not perfect, nor excellent, but it does showcase the fact that we have more to offer than happy metal heads grinding death thrash with grins on their faces. It's fair to say that "Second Skin of Harlequin" might be the best Danish black metal album ever. After all, there isn't much contest for this throne. Despite its minor flaws and Cradle of Filth-idolizing that, in my opinion, is a bit over the top, "Second Skin of Harlequin" is definitely an album worth recommending, as is Illnath a band worth keeping an eye on.


Download: And There Was Light, Book of Sand, Feathers Shall Fall

For the fans of: Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir

Listen: Myspace

Release date: 30.04.2007


Provided by Target ApS

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