Begrafven – Dödsriket Review

One of the key tenets of Marketing101 is: know your target market and be clear about what you’re offering them. Swedish duo, Begrafven obviously missed that lecture entirely. Look at the album art for their debut, Dödsriket. The moniker suggests icy black metal, but the cartoon-like drawing muddies the waters by implying a less serious, tongue-in-cheek approach. The band photos and Facebook page further complicate matters by showing scary, corpse-painted musicians and emphasizing ominous occult activities. What is going on? Who is this for? And most importantly, is this worth your valuable time and money?

Dödsriket is Begrafven’s debut LP following a demo in 2013. Consisting of Ursus (guitars and vocals) and Maturz (bass and drums), Begrafven plays a fairly traditional blend of old-school Scandinavian second-wave black metal and melodic, less intense black ‘n roll. While the approach is by no means original, there has been a lot of demanding, atypical black metal recently, and if you’re like me, you sometimes just want some good ole fashioned, meat and ‘taters fare. Dödsriket’s major selling point, however, is that the goal isn’t speed and fury, but rather straightforward melodicism. The songs, while by no means mid-paced, are more focused on exploring catchy hooks and interesting sonic switch-ups than on crushing you with endless blast beats. Imagine the slightly less angsty, marginally more benevolent, definitely longer-winded offspring of a Dissection and Tribulation Tinder hook-up, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect here.

Speaking of long-winded, the first thing that stands out is that the album is 69 minutes long. That’s a whole lotta black metal, and a whole lotta Begrafven. Most songs are at least 6 minutes, with many going on even longer. While there’s plenty to enjoy, the truth is that most elements of Dödsriket could have used the ear of a judicious and merciless editor. “Då jorden fylls av klagorop” and “Livets Fort” both contain some great moments and cool riffs, but those are forgotten as the tracks creak, and ultimately buckle, under the sheer mass of the material they’re supporting. This is a pity, because they contain some really great moments that would have benefited from more focus and less bloat. These songs are representative of Dödsriket as a whole: the excess material is not bad, it just lacks focus, which unfortunately dulls the really good stuff. Many of the songs also simply don’t know how to end, with long, pointless fade-outs which simply sap momentum and energy.

When Begrafven gets it right, however, the band’s formula makes for songs that are compelling, interesting … and just pure fun (remember that?). “Frostfödd” highlights the band at its peak: a track chock-full of actual riffs that aren’t buried beneath compressed production and a flurry of drumming. It’s a compelling combination of melodicism, black ‘n’ roll, and icy black metal and it hits all the right spots. The band is confident enough in the material to take the time to slow down and let the riffs do the talking. The wretched vocals are fairly one-note, but their harshness balances out the melodies comfortably enough that Dödsriket never wanders into pop territory. There is also enough variety in the album, from rapid-fire fury (“Slav”) to swinging, more introspective numbers (“Frälsaren”). This means that Dödsriket, while not always compelling, is never a bore.

Like everything about this band, Dödsriket is a nightmare to assess and score. It’s bloated and ill-disciplined, but it’s also undeniably entertaining. It’s a mile too long, but it actually brings the riffs. It’s not particularly original, but it covers familiar territory with unpretentious zest and charisma. Its compositions have no idea how to end… but boy do they know how to begin. Ultimately, your enjoyment of Begrafven‘s debut will depend on how well you are able to tolerate these incongruities. Give it a whirl – I suspect you may be surprised.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Unexploded Records
Releases Worldwide: August 28th, 2020

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