Satan’s Penguins – Birds of Darkness

Satan’s Penguins – Birds of Darkness – 4/5

A band that has done its rounds a while back, but often feels left out of conversations. And sure, they have an amusing name, and they sure as hell don’t sound like many other black metal artists, but beneath the jokes lies an unconventional brand of enjoyable music. Pass them off as another band using a gimmick in place of actual talent and you may find the joke is ultimately on you.

I’m apprehensive to refer to this as avant-garde, for whilst its unique at no point does have that bizarre edge where the collision of multiple genres that – by all expectations – shouldn’t work together form something cohesive, and instead feel firmly rooted within the black metal genre, even if they have taken a few liberties in the manner its performed. Neither does it give off that crisp and experimentally keyboard-heavy melodic feel of post-black; retaining a black core they subtly dabble with ideas lifted from other genres within each track, often with excellent results. Not feeling entirely raw in production – each instrument is too carefully balanced, too easily discerned – neither does it give off an overly polished feel. The tremolo from the guitars still feel heavily distorted and packed with plenty of icy cold treble, the drums suitably earthy and filled with life, even the bass making himself known. Transitioning between soft ethereal passages and the more aggressive, it seems to take a lot of influence with regard to pace and its ‘groove’ from traditional doom titans. Throw in a few Viking-esque epic melodies, a couple of folky tunes and some acoustic guitar and we have a recipe for unconventionality galore.

The drums make liberal use of the cymbals in their quest for the right tone, but whilst easily heard they contribute to the atmosphere without becoming dominant, and with no shortage of styles, each drum can be heard playing their creative – if not as fast paced as many others – style. The guitars maintain a balance between tremolo riffs and melody, displaying a variety of influences beyond the black, from the thrash-inspired riffs to slow bombastic doom, even working with the bass to provide a blackened cover of the beginning of Vivaldi’s well known ‘Summer Part III’ (four seasons), towards the end of the opening track. The bass, too, isn’t left out of the mix here, providing the bottom end of the scale and adding a thick background to allow the thin sounding guitars to maintain their icy presence without making the overall piece feel too thin or ‘tinny.’

Finishing the line-up is the vocalist, who in this sinfully good variety of musical styles, perhaps feels the least impressive aspect here. At times a little monotonous, his not overly aggressive mid-pitched growls maintain the tracks momentum whilst adding little to the musicianship shown by other members. With the occasional sprinkling of soft ethereal vocals that perhaps wouldn’t feel entirely out of place in a Nightwish clone, here it adds short bursts of ambient-like interludes to break up the track. Fluidly transgressing throughout its 45 min track length, the unusual title show more than just the lighter side of the genre, but also the versatility that exists within it. This may not be amongst my favourites albums within the genre, but they’ve taken a stab at shaking things up a bit and emerged with an array of tones that more often than not work wonders.

Highlights: Antarctic Winterstorm, An Evil Shade of Pink, Mutant Ninja Penguins (From Hell)