Vintersorg‘s Naturbål had the misfortune (for long-time readers) of being released while I was off getting straight-married1. In the run up to this major life event, I managed to squeeze in quite a few listens, however, as I was given a promo copy of it quite early from the band2. Long-story-short: Naturbål is a continuation of these Skelleftebors’ string of successful releases that started with Jordpuls in 2011, improved with Orkan in 2012 and that continues in full force now in 2014.
With the exception of “Ur aska och sot,” which hasn’t sat well with me since about the 4th time through it, Naturbål is chock full of what Vintersorg does best: melodic black metal work with extraordinary and catchy choruses. With his characteristic voice, Vintersorg knocks out anthem after anthem, with a few pauses for blast beats and trem-picking. These echoes of black metal—of which there are more and more on the last couple records—are always offset by melody and beauty. Listen, for example, to the bridge and chorus in “En blixt från klar himmel,” which is guaranteed to stick to your gray matter like some sort of melodic brain-tick infecting you with its melody for weeks afterward.
Naturbål‘s weakness, though, is the mastering and production. While there is a new bassist involved on this recording by the name of Simon Lundström, he’s nearly impossible to hear without busting out your best equipment. And the record is just really loud, falling in at an aggressively crunched DR5, as Vintersorg‘s material has been for a long, long time. This flattens out the fantastic versatility of the songwriting and removes the dynamics from some of the instrumentation. Reviewers have been knocking Vintersorg‘s most modern music for being “busy,” and I think it actually has to do with this problem. Everything loud also means it’s hard to fill the space an instrument or melody is supposed to “fill.” While there’s no audible peaking, this record would be a lot more dynamic if the band were to back off the crunch in the recording and mastering process. (And let’s be frank, ‘no audible peaking’ is a pretty low bar for a mastering job.)
In spite of the mastering job, though, Vintersorg‘s writing is anything but flat, and the performances of guest vocalists Helena Sofia Lidman (performing on her first record, apparently) and Frida Eurenius (ex-Lapis Lazuli) add to a record that has Vintersorg‘s most black metal feel since the “early days.” Mattias Marklund’s guitar work is especially vibrant on Naturbål—see particularly the solo that closes out “Elddraken,” which really made me sit up and take notice. And the combination of the effective writing, performances, and hooky melodies makes for a powerful record, regardless of weaknesses.
Watching a band late in its career continue to knock out great, consistent records is one of the most gratifying things I can think of in metal. Vintersorg‘s continued development and movement back towards their “source” as a premiere, unique band in the arena of melodic black metal has been fantastic. Naturbål hits all the highlights and has its own unique feel; it’ll set the soul of long time fans aflame, and could even pave the way for new ones.