Till Fjälls (“To the Mountains”) marked the début of Sweden’s Vintersorg and thus began one of the better melodic black and folk metal bands around. Though their music phased out the folk influences and replaced them with even more melody, Till Fjälls del II is a definitive statement that they still care about folksy stimuli. Cast your eyes over the rather excellent artwork. Do you see the mountains, the trees, the snow, the Northern fucking Lights? I think you’ll agree that they definitely still care about nature and shit.
II represents an entirely logical step for Vintersorg, completing a return to their roots which was foreshadowed by the past 3 records. Jordpuls, Orkan and Naturbål retreated from the pseudo-scientific and -philosophical reaches of Andreas Hedlund’s (Vintersorg himself) mind, back to the organic, folk-influenced melodic black metal with which he developed his name. Seemingly a direct sequel to the great first record, II fully retakes the Scandinavian mantle of snow-frosted mountains and wild forests in a way which will be familiar to lovers of their natural material. The only slight defect in this symmetry of their discography is that while the aforementioned 3 records respectively concerned earth, air and fire, we never received an album expressly dedicated to the fourth classical element, water. But I’ll cut Mr. Sorg some slack as he’s once again written a stand-out record replete with heroine-laced choruses and sharp instrumental melodies.
I imagine these songs are borderline unforgettable if you actually speak Swedish. For us non-Swedish peasants, it’s still remarkable that I’m able to mimic all the sounds and sing along without having a clue about the meaning. The Beatles once mused that “love is all you need” but Vintersorg apparently doesn’t subscribe to this view: rather, amazing choruses are more than sufficient. I’d even dare to suggest that they’re more consistent than ever with no track here which I’d rather wasn’t. This is particularly pertinent given the record’s lengthy 67 minutes. I’m confident there’s something clinically wrong with you if you’re not immediately deploying your best Swedish accent to sing along with the chorus of “Vinterstorm” (“Winter Storm,” unsurprisingly), while “Tillbaka till Källorna” (“Back to the Sources”) is another highlight given its unbelievable vocal hooks. “Fjällets Mäktiga Mur” (“The Great Wall of the Mountain”) opens with that profound piano lead in which Vintersorg specializes and which usually marks my favorite Vintersorg tracks – such as the title tracks from Till Fjälls and Orkan. It also features a cute homage to the former with “Till fjälls!” chanted in the chorus. It is, accordingly, another fantastic track.
II is pleasingly familiar, like rediscovering your old favorite tea mug at the back of the cupboard. It’s everything in Vintersorg‘s repertoire taken to its logical conclusion through the subtle tuning of their formula. But my first criticism is the lack of development. I’m a progression kinda guy and like to hear change after bands nail their formula. That formula was essentially already nailed on the past 3 records which were stylistically quite similar. I’ll therefore be docking precious points as I have a multitude of choice of this sort of music already. This is especially so given the duration of the album. I’m perfectly aware of my subjective position as a reviewer and in the hopes of heading off complaints that I’m “not being objective,” I want to highlight that these are my personal responses to, and thoughts about, II.
My second objection is one familiar to AMG‘s writings on Vintersorg: the master. DR4 simply limits the expressiveness and dynamics of Vintersorg’s song-writing which is otherwise so colorful and vibrant. II does sound better than other albums with similar scores on account of the evenly balanced mix and the relative prominence of electric guitars above more subtle instrumentation but it’s an unnecessary shortcoming. The track which truly highlights the deficiency is the soft conclusion, “Svart Måne” (“Black Moon”). Its gentle acoustic melody and group chants strongly recall Ulver‘s Kveldssanger but unlike that gorgeously produced album, its acoustic guitar lacks delicacy and sounds loud.
Don’t let my complaints hold you back from yet another great Vintersorg release, however. Old fans will find plenty more to enjoy while new ones can look forward to one of the best examples of black metal layered with clean vocals. Even though II is similar to their previous work it’s tough for this to color my opinion too much given how well executed it is. I’m struggling to think of other bands who have as many releases who are still as good as these guys. My only future concern results from the symmetry of their career progression: as they’ve returned to their roots, where to next?