I’m going to get this out of the way regarding Vattnet Viskar‘s second album, Settler right now: that is the saddest album cover I’ve seen in my almost-two years of writing for Angry Metal Guy, and I’m not talking “OMG THEY WENT FULL DEAFHEAVEN!,” either. I’m sure most of you know the backstory by now, but for those blissfully unaware, the cover (and album itself) is purportedly inspired by a training picture of one Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher-turned-NASA astronaut from New Hampshire who led her team to space on the SS Challenger before it exploded 73 seconds into flight, killing McAuliffe and her six crew members in January 1986. As a kid growing up in New Hampshire, it was easily one of the most traumatic experiences watching the Challenger blow up on television, and knowing one of the passengers lived not too far from me. So, have these fellow New Hampshirites done a respectful job of honoring one of our own?
Well, if the cover somehow makes you worry that the music will be airy, fluffy, and majestic, you can come back down to Earth now, as it’s still black and still heavy as fuck. It must be said, though, that only opener “Dawnlands” contains a heaping helping of black metal combined with their post-stylings. Seamus Menihane once again shows he’s no slouch behind the kit, flailing and blasting with intensity over the riffing and tremolo melodies of guitarists Chris Alfieri and Nicholas Thornbury. Speaking of Thornbury, his vocals are a bit more harsh and acidic than on their impressive debut, Sky Swallower, reminding me of a cross between Aaron Turner (Isis) and modern-day Dan Weyandt (Zao). Not a bad start.
And speaking of Sky Swallower, more risks were taken here with great effect, thereby improving their songwriting immensely. Thornbury displays some clean vocals on “Yearn” which only add to the impending intensity before it quietly dissipates at the end of the song. The ending to “Heirs” has one of the most beautiful tremolo melodies I’ve heard in recent years. “Impact” has gang shouts that you would easily miss if you weren’t paying attention. “Impact” also stands out as the centerpiece of the album, for when Thornbury shouts “I STAND UPON THE GROUND…” said ground gives way, drums barrel forth, and the riffs and melodies just keep coming at you, building to a great climax and cementing itself as a Song of the Year candidate.
So, if the album is an improvement over Sky Swallower, why is it scored lower? The Sanford Parker (Minsk, ex-Nachtmystium) production adds a good amount of beef to the album, but also a ton of distortion to the point of being too distorted. When the speed ramps up in intensity (like on “Impact,” and the ending of “Heirs”), you can’t pick apart guitars, and Casey Aylward’s bass gets lost in the shuffle. Also, there’s no two ways of saying this: the drums sound awful on here, and that’s a shame, as Menihane has proven to be an absolute beast on the drums. Had this been given a less distorted production, this would’ve scored higher easily, as it’s the perfect length (38 minutes), the music is incredible, and I enjoyed the voyage despite popping ibuprofen every so often.
What we have learned here is never judge an album by its cover. Vattnet Viskar continues to impress and ensnare with their take on US black metal, and Settler is a welcome addition to their library. Just take bite-sized bits and pieces here.