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One knows black metal when one hears it, even without a formal definition.  Marduk is black metal.  Watain is black metal.  The sound, aesthetic, and motivation are all there.

With many newer black metal bands, however, the commitment is less complete.  I'm not talking about bands like Ludicra or Agalloch, who don't try to be black metal with a capital B and M.  I'm talking about bands like Imperium Dekadenz, who got into the game late, and though they have black metal trappings (spidery logo, two-tone artwork, corpsepaint in their early days), just don't have that "know it when you hear it" force.  Black metal bands shouldn't burn down churches, but they should sound like they do.

On their first two records, Imperium Dekadenz sounded like they slogged through Darkthrone and Burzum covers at practice, but were more much excited to play Chopin and Segovia études afterwards.  Serious piano and acoustic guitar chops graced interludes between by-the-numbers black metal.  The juxtaposition was interesting but jarring.

On Procella Vadens (Season of Mist, 2010), Imperium Dekadenz have reconciled these disparate elements. Their solution is not to attempt Black Metal, but to find their own sound. Gorgeous instrumental passages are still at work, but now their lyricism spills over into the metal parts. The sound is passionate and melancholy. In interviews, the band cites Dead Can Dance as an inspiration, which is now obvious. Piano, acoustic guitar, female vocals, and electronic pads lend a cinematic feel. The album cover evokes that of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for The Mission; occasionally the sound reaches the lushness of that work.

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Ironically, the black metal parts have also firmed up.  The production, while not slick, is clean, which allows the acoustic instruments to shine.  The performances are tight and assured, yielding a heaviness the band lacked before.  Much of the material is an elegiac trudge that suggests Burzum after years of study.  It's an advancement all around, and a welcome one.

— Cosmo Lee