Norwegian metal is famous for two things in modern times: the rise of modern black metal, and more recently, Norway’s fall into disrepute within the metal scene. Since the latter occurred, we have often been hailed with the new band that is somehow breathing new life into the old scene or still making black metal in the old style,and the next band to be hailed in that line is Náttsól, whose debut album Stemning hits European shores in June and the American shores in July. Náttsól we are told, breathe a new and icy life into the dead Norwegian scene that has been a disappointment to us all since the early 2000s. Surely, they’ll be the ones!
Of course, PR has a way of over-blowing things, don’t they? I guess every band is hailed as the next best thing ever, but fewer and fewer are being hailed as the band to save the Norwegian scene. And while Stemning isn’t exactly breathing life into the old scene, it is certainly an album that is going to shake a certain breed of black metal fan from their slumber and cause them to sit up and take notice, because what Náttsól does successfully is not to wake the scene, but to bring it back a little bit through imitation.
Now there are different arguable attitudes about imitation that exist in the microcosm of metal. There’s the more conservative view which looks at imitation as a positive thing: “who cares that this band is just a clone of a band, they’re good at it! Calm down and enjoy!” and then there’s the other crowd who sees imitation as inevitable, but not desirable. This Angry Metal Guy tends to be in the second camp, particularly when it comes to black metal (and neo-thrash.. blech). Náttsól, it would seem, loves Ulver as much as the rest of us do and in such case decided to remake the record Bergtatt. Unfortunately for them, Bergtatt was made once and has been remade 100 times (*coughAgallochcough*).
And this is not to be mean, though I guess since I’m angry I’m well within my rights to also be mean, but just to state the obvious. Náttsól are pretty good song writers, but they make black metal in a style that is basically completely derivative of one single band that released one album in that style 16 years ago and basically completely abandoned it as done upon completing the trilogy. While the sound has lived on through bands like October Falls, Agalloch, Galar and more importantly earlier Vintersorg records, it can’t be argued that it has ever been done finer than with the original band that did it: Ulver.
But Stemning is certainly not a bad record. The vocal performances (both extreme and clean) are excellent, the production lands perfectly in the range where you want it for this kind of record: atmospheric and distant but not too ridiculously bad. The acoustic parts that litter the records are well done, and while the sound is dead on for Bergtatt and Kveldssanger, it is certainly well-played and beautiful. In fact, I would go so far as to say that my favorite contributions to the album are those beautiful acoustic parts, particularly in “Ved Baal i Kveldstime” and at the end of “Ved Fjell i Vinterblåst”.
So it’s hit or miss here: the band does what they attempted to do, really, and that was to create a record that gets across the mood (roughly what Stemning means in Norwegian) of certain moments and situations in the surrounding Norwegian landscape. And they do a pretty good job of writing interesting songs that are engaging for the most part, I especially enjoy “Ved Skog i Natterstid” and “Ved Hav i Avdagsleitet” (which sees the band nearest to Kveldssanger but doing something more unique by bringing in a female vocalist). But on the other hand, it’s still an imitation of something that is ultimately better and at what point do you not just go to the CD rack and pull out Bergtatt and have it over with? That’s what I did.