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Black Totem – Shapeshifting

Black Totem
by Tommy Mulhern at 06 June 2021, 1:04 AM

Recently, I read an article that mentioned BLACK TOTEM along with two bands that were also from Finland that I have loved for years, BABYLON WHORES and MANA MANA; so, I was naturally interested in finding out more about them. They had just released “Dead Meat", off this album, as a single, so I listened to it a few times and thought it was quite good. I couldn’t see much in common with the two other bands other than it was a form of their ‘Death n Roll’, but not in the same league. I didn’t really think much of who they were like, just selfishly disappointed that I hadn’t found a band of the same quality of the two mentioned in the article. Now since the release of “Shapeshifting” a lot of comparisons have been made with anything Glenn Danzig has ever been involved with; SAMHAINTHE MISFITS, with him and after he left, and of course DANZIG, and at times I can see why. But to me this band sounds more like THE BLACK KEYS (not being disparaging here, they are very good musicians) with a dirtier sound and a few spooky melodies.

Formed in Turku, Finland in 2007, BLACK TOTEM were a two piece band for a good  number of years. But with an album and a couple of EPs under their belt they decided to add two new members in 2016. I’ve only recently listened to their back catalogue, but I think I prefer their early stuff more, although it’s not that very much different from this release. The addition of the female vocals and the doomy samples are nice touches, in the vein of NOTRE DAME to an extent, but aren’t done enough, or seem out of place for some reason that is hard to explain. For example, the vocal melody used when “Begone Vampire” slows down halfway through is definitely the most memorable part of the whole album, and should have been used a lot more. It may have given them more of a uniqueness or at the very least made it more interesting. The song “Dead Meat" was an obvious choice for a single as it is probably the best on here. “The Devil" and “1990s" are steady songs, and I liked “Ghoul Of Crow Swamp" but nothing else really stood out. I did enjoy the guitar solos throughout though. They were top class and soared above everything with their crisp clear sound. I’m not doubting that they are all good musicians, just that they missed the mark and a few tricks here.

Oscar Wilde had a quotation ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…’ but I won’t finish it, as I think it’s a little harsh when talking about “Shapeshifting". They have quite obviously used a genre, or more specifically one man’s influence over it, to inspire their style and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. I just think it’s hard to separate the music from the charismatic characters involved and maybe this is the missing element that I find hard to put my finger on with this band. I’ll be interested to see where they go in the future, but this is more misfit than MISFITS for me I’m afraid.

Songwriting: 6
Memorability: 5
Musicianship: 6
Production: 7

3 Star Rating

1. Begone Vampire
2. The Devil
3. 1990s
4. Black Nekro Shoes
5. Bloodstained Owl
6. Ghoul Of Crow Swamp
7. Dead Meat
8. Backyard Corpse Blues
9. Welcome Lucifer
10. Warlock
Spit Poison – Vocals & guitar
Sam Hate – Guitar & backing vocals
Tony Cash – Drums & backing vocals
Wera Wolf – Bass & backing vocals
Record Label: Svart Records


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Edited 11 June 2023

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