Sometimes an album comes along that progressively gets better listen after listen. With their debut full-length Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth, Swedish melodic black metallers Wormwood have constructed such an album. Ghostlands is a rich and diverse journey that seamlessly switches between heart-rendering atmospherics, blistering melodic technicality, rock ‘n’ roll playfulness, and folk-metal majesty. I didn’t connect with Ghostlands at first, but like so many of albums I love, it needed time to mature and I needed time to mull. Each subsequent listen has unearthed nuances and textures that make Ghostlands a progressively rewarding listen. Although potentially blighted by its length and the quietness of the bass, I’ve only good things to say. Akerblogger‘s first gushing review of the year is upon us.
Wormwood are firmly rooted in the Swedish-tradition; the blackened traces of Naglfar and Dissection merge with the folk-spirit of Månegarm and the Viking metal of late-era Bathory. In a similar vein to Hyperion‘s excellent Seraphical Euphony, Wormwood channel the masters of days gone with a refreshed and vibrant perspective. Originality and innovation are difficult and Wormwood know: “bad artists copy, great artists steal.” Rather than copying they reconstruct.
The riffs are the driving force here, and they are delivered by the boat-load with a swift and unrelenting consistency. The drumming, too, is a force to behold, rupturing melodies, providing subtle adoration to moments of quiet, grooving with self-assured simplicity during rock interludes, and generally surging with an energy and fullness that enhances a lot that’s on offer here. “Oceans” is the best example of these two forces uniting. The song opens with a swirling cascade of melodic tremolo riffing, jubilantly upbeat in tone, before slowing to a crunchier, black-thrash tone that casts a contrasting malice. At one point the drums rampage with a blurry death-metal feel before the song transitions again into airier, dare I say progressive, territories. There are many moments that arrive out of left-field. From the polka-music interlude of “Under Hennes Vingslag” to the AC/DC-esque bridge that casts light on the desolate beginning of “Godless Serenade,” Ghostlands is etched with quirks that occur with a smooth self-assurance.
Ghostlands is an album of contrasts that just seem to work. Another example of this is in “Tidh ok Ödhe.” It opens with a jovial folk-metal sea-shanty style that is adorned with wispy female vocals, half-man/half-wolf howls, and a festival of fiddles and acoustic tomfoolery. Around the 3:10 mark, however, the song careens into a cataclysmic section that manages to retain the faintest aromas of playfulness merged with a violent black metal that just works so well.
Every song seems to have that moment where everything comes together, where you just want to raise your ceremonial horn to the vast sky and blow with triumph. There’s an 80-second stretch from the 1:40 point of “Beneath Ravens and Bones” that I find myself constantly repeating and repeating and repeating. It’s one of those moments where minuscule features happen to merge perfectly. For example, the intonation of vocalist Nine’s vocals rise for a brief second at 2:43 in a way that somehow manages to relinquish all the pathos and mysticism that the song has had bottled up. Despite consuming so much excellent music these days, I feel these awesome reactions to music are occurring less and less. We’re constantly exposed to a conveyor belt of excellence that can sometimes be numbing. So when moments like this come along, cherish them, for they do not last.
Shackled by a maximum word-count, I haven’t the space to discuss every song, however much I’d like to. Each of the twelve songs has its own distinct feel and mood, yet their construction isn’t so distinct or different that it hampers the flow of the album. There are a few minor issues that keep niggling at my over-enthused mind. Despite a rather spacious and clean production, the quiet verging on silent bass somewhat detracts from my experience. It could do with some trimming, too; if the album was one song shorter it’d feel more complete. However, on the whole, Ghostlands moves with a ghostly smoothness that ebbs, flows, rises and falls with a mixture of beauty and malice that only impresses. Sweden continues to provide the backdrop to great metal. Long may it continue.