|That rumored Bathory album which Quorthon supposedly recorded between 'The Return' and 'Under the Sign of the Black Mark' but never released... imagine what it would sound like if Quorthon traded off vocal duties with King Diamond on it - they would have probably ended up with something very similar to what we have here. Provided that both of them were also transformed into grim and determined suicidal maniacs so deeply entrenched in black hollows of utter despair that the only remaining impulse is a cold and calculating resolution to terminate, dematerialize and transcend.
For the most immediate point of reference is indeed Bathory circa '85-'86, yet this one-man band is very far from being a clone. The cavernously reverberating, throat-searing shrieks like those pioneered by Quorthon are omnipresent here, but the most distinguishing aspect of the vocals is revealed when Mikael slips into his King Diamond persona - the similarity is unnerving. The high-pitched wails, the low rasps, the midrange echoing moans, all are faithfully reproduced, yet this too transcends mere "cloning", since in the context of the violently despondent music they aquire a new essence, resembling that of "a lost, forgotten, sad spirit", a desperate wraith already in the process of dissolving into the chthonic element and merging back with Hades.
The music is firmly based in the fast, frenzied, raging riffing of albums such as 'The Return', with a dose of some of that numb-to-the-world, grim and bleeding style characteristic of some more modern bands often described as "suicidal black metal". Keyboards are sometimes used, but very tastefully, merely augmenting the music when needed, giving it a certain ambient quality. When the music slows down, it enters a mode of monomaniacal, midpaced intensity radiating utter malevolence and blackness ('Bat Horde' is a perfect example), or slowing down even more and creating truly lumbering and depressive blackened doom, such as on 'The Death of All that is Beautiful'. Other tracks (such as the opener 'The End of This Incarnation') integrate those varied influences into a singular blend which characterizes Tearstained; this is a diverse album which does not try to blindly break new ground, but takes some tried-and-true ideas and works with them in ways never before attempted, with the ultimate result being a real uniqueness and an astounding atmospheric quality.
As for the production, it is reasonably sharp for a black metal recording, with a very meaty and acidic guitar tone. The drum programming sounds a little awkward, but also somehow bears an uncanny resemblance to the drumming on 'The Return' (perhaps intentionally).
There is an unlisted bonus track with two cover songs - without spoiling the surprise, I will just say that one of them is excellently performed (if a bit obvious), while the other one put me off a bit because of the choice of the band covered. All in all, this is an album worthy of enthusiastical appreciation from fans of old-school and modern black metal alike (the GOOD varieties, of course - not the watered-down crap), and an amazingly accomplished composition, especially considering that this is the debut album of a one-man project. No wonder that this got them signed to BW. Wholeheartedly recommended.