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Norway's 1349 (named for the year the Black Plague struck their home country) may seem like an orthodox black metal band at first glance, but they've got a few surprises up their (spiked black leather) sleeves. Their 2009 album Revelations of the Black Flame featured a cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," with guest guitar and bass by Tom Gabriel Fischer of Celtic Frost and Triptykon. Fischer returns to produce this, 1349's debut for Prosthetic Records. It's a more straightforward black metal album than Revelations was; that disc featured several songs that tended more toward sludgy doom than the treble-saturated hurricanes of guitar that BM fans crave. This time, the razor-wire guitar sound is back, and tempos range from blazing to blasting, with the exception of the dirgelike title track, but there's a full, rumbling bass tone, too, and unexpected instruments crop up in the mix, like a bizarrely detuned piano on "Atomic Chapel" and some seriously avant-garde, almost noise rock guitar soloing on "Psalm 7:77." The songs proper are separated by ambient/electronic interludes called "Tunnel of Set," which are numbered 11-17 even though the numbers one through ten have never appeared on any previous 1349 album. This album will almost certainly please longtime fans who found Revelations to be a weird stylistic left turn, but it's also a good introduction to 1349, as they confidently explore the parameters of their chosen style.

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