What we have here is a split release of Sanctifica's first demo "In the Bleak Midwinter", which was originally released in cassette form only in 1998, and Pantokrator's newest offering "Songs of Solomon" recorded in 2001. This is a great collectors item for fans of both bands. A chance for Sanctifica fans to hear their older material in CD format and a chance for many of us to hear Pantokrator for the first time.
Sanctifica is up first with five full length songs and one short intro. This material is not as good as "Spirit of Purity" but it is still very worthy of your attention. The production is far from perfect (as was "Spirit.."), but is good enough to enjoy without it driving you nuts. It's actually better than I thought it would be. You can definitlely tell after listening to this material, the progression that they would take on their "Spirit..." release. They are in the black metal realm for the most part. The songs are all very well done. The vocals are very intense and the music is heavy and aggressive. Like "Spirit..", they can shred at 90 mph, but they can also slow it down often and sound just as good. The music is very good here, and the drum sound may even be a little better as on "Spirit..." the drums quite frequently got "lost" in the music. Best songs are "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "Sacrifice to Life".
Of the few friends of mine that got this release before me, most didn't really like Pantokrator that much. I'll have to respectfully disagree. Although the production doesn't really do them much justice, they sound really promising and I will commit right now that I'll be snatching up their next release as soon as it sees the light of day. They are kind've a heavy, doomy death metal ala Antestor's "Martyrium" release with some very slight influences from bands like Tourniquet and Seventh Angel. The guitars have that raw, metallic sound that Mortification's newer albums had, but heavier. The vocals are mainly in a deep deathly growl, but the band incorporates some of the best female vocals I've heard yet in extreme metal. The only rivals would be Ashen Mortality. The first two songs here are good, but it is tracks 3 through 6 where the band really shines. Track number 3, "Under Himmelen" is a short instrumental that I absolutely love. With violen and acoustic guitars, it conveys a very somber, depressing sound. "Come Let Us Flee" followings immediately with some rapid acoustic guitar strumming before the brutal guitars rip in after about 45 seconds. "Separated by Night" and "Behind the Veil" close out the album in fine fashion. Pantokrator is not the best band in the world, but I find their music very tasty and consider myself an instant fan.
Overall, this is a must pickup for fans of black and death metal. One big disappointment is the fact that there are no lyrics in the booklet. Kinda doesn't make sense when you are dealing with extreme music. Some of the vocals are discernable, but with most your left guessing. Other than that I really am pleased with this purchase. Kudos to C.L. Music & Publishing (Narnia's lead singer's label) for making this release available. (Review by Matt)