We here at Angry Metal Guy Unlimited Turbo Duo Deluxe Enterprises take pride in bringing you timely reviews of all things metal. That said, sometimes our heroes will go off the beaten path and create something that’s neither metal nor angry. For instance, Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, looking to branch out into different streams of musical consciousness, has put down his guitar in favor of a MacBook. Yes, something ambient has been brewing in his awesome beard, and with the help of Today is the Day‘s Steve Austin on guitar and effects, we have the debut BardSpec album, Hydrogen. If my recent Today is the Day induction didn’t rustle jimmies enough, this review could flip a full container of them1. Prepare yourselves now, though; there isn’t a single whiff of anything resembling metal on here.
But that’s not to say there isn’t some quality music on display. After a short introduction that utilizes a decent build-up, “Bone” switches gears and guides you through a kaleidoscope of airy strummed and ambient noise effects. After about a minute or so, pulsating drums introduce themselves, and the song pulls you into a dreamlike void that’s rife with color and atmosphere. It’s a slow burner, but after a couple of minutes, you start to feel yourself entering a trance-like state. Bjørnson develops layers upon layers of soundscapes, taking you on a journey that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tangerine Dream album. Effective and enjoyable.
Hydrogen demands patience and time to appreciate its nuances and atmosphere, and requires multiple, dedicated listening sessions to unearth new sounds and layers. “Gamma,” the album’s most peaceful tune, reminds me of a day in the park, looking up at the sky while the wind gently blows. Its airy arpeggios and wispy indecipherable vocals act as a bed to lay yourself on as you doze off. Elsewhere, “Fire Tongue” adds a primal flair to the album, building and climaxing with several looping beats, multiple effective climaxes, and a backing harmony that both acts as an instigator and a soother at once. Bjørnson’s command of layers and introducing new sounds every few seconds is impeccable, as if he’s been honing this particular craft for years, and didn’t bother to tell anyone.
That’s not to say that Hydrogen is a completely soothing ride, however. While not overly long at 54 minutes, the songs do drag on after a while. You could edit out minutes from each song and not lose impact. By the time “Salt” rolls around, you can’t help but feel exhausted from repetitive sounds and each song’s length. Bonus track “Teeth” stands out as the weakest song on here, as the same lulling effect expertly captured on “Gamma” isn’t as effective here.
But Bjørnson crafted an intriguing project with BardSpec. While miles removed from his progressive Nordic metal, Hydrogen shows the Enslaved man painting with a different color palette, and the results are worth checking out for the more open-minded of metalfolk. While the album exemplifies “mood music,” Hydrogen is still an enjoyable review. It may not leave you wielding dual invisible citrus, but it may take you someplace you’ve never experienced before.