Review by Xephyr for Mütiilation - Vampires of Black Imperial Blood (1995)
Vampires Have Feelings Too
I’ve slowly been figuring out that the explosion of the Black Metal genre in the early to mid-1990’s isn’t to be underestimated. Within two or three years this raw and evil offshoot of Thrash Metal went from having only a handful of notable bands pushing the genre forward to everyone plus their long lost, distant relatives pulling new sub-genres out of thin air. Whether it was Symphonic, Atmospheric, or Melodic Black Metal, the short span between 1993 and 1995 had an insurmountable number of influential albums being released all over the world. Amidst all these groundbreaking albums that I actually enjoy, Mütiilation hit me with an album that made me scratch my head a bit. Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is influential in a more traditional sense, with the album itself not exactly breaking entirely new ground in the same way as something like Bathory’s Hammerheart, but still having a massive impact and influence on later artists that would refine what this album started. If I'm being honest though, I can't say that I'm a massive fan of what would spawn from this, whether you want to call it Depressive Black Metal or not, and that makes it really difficult to like what Mütiilation did on their debut.
Vampires of Black Imperial Blood is a raw and grating experience, but not in the same way as other lo-fi Black Metal albums. I can be a big fan of classic lo-fi or even modern lo-fi production if it's handled well, but Mütiilation's approach of having zero bottom end on anything mixed with some instantly notable inconsistencies between the tracks just doesn't do it for me. The bass drum for all the blast beats is barely audible and while there are more than a few cool guitar riffs and melodies, the moments where they're able to shine through in any meaningful way are few and far between. The album is split into two distinct production styles, the first being "Eternal Empire", "Under Ardailles Night", "Magical Shadows Of A Tragic Past", and "Black Imperial Blood" having a very foggy and muddled guitar tone that pushes the percussion even farther into the background. "Ravens Of My Funeral", "Transylvania", "Tears Of A Melancholic Vampire", and "Born Under the Master's Spell" are a bit more standard in their lo-fi production as the tremolo riffs are clearer and more audible but still have that grindy and cold quality to them. Throwing these two production styles into one albums definitely makes for a jarring experience and even though the apparent devil-may-care attitude towards the overall quality of the music could be endearing for some, it never gripped me in a meaningful way.
However, I admittedly understand why this album is cited as being so influential. As Black Metal was being refined from its lo-fi beginnings by multitudes of bands, Mütiilation decided to double down on the essence of what separated Black Metal from Thrash Metal in the first place. This album undoubtedly has a lot of passion to it, even though raw passion can be a double-edged sword in cases like this. There are plenty of great riffs in tracks like "Black Imperial Blood" and "Under Ardailles Night" that rival some of the other classic Black Metal albums of the time, but there's so many uninteresting blast beat sections stuffed in-between these moments that just don't keep me captivated whatsoever. The raw and cold energy of this release just bounces off of me, which is strange since I'm normally a pretty big fan of Atmospheric Black Metal for those exact reasons. It's hard to say why, since I agree that there's a ton of dark and grim emotion packed into this release, but I suppose it's not conveyed in a way that's captivating to me.