Ah, trveness. That concept that sits opposite “poseur” on the coin of black metal. Plenty of metal fans, bands and critics love to point out its folly, but there’s a reason we have to contend with the idea in the first place. Any fandom, especially if it grows from small, kvlt status to more widespread acceptance, will develop gatekeepers. Like if Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons wore bullet belts and spiked gauntlets, these trve believers will snicker at your more mainstream metal t-shirt while muttering something about Pitchfork under their breath and complain loudly that you got shoegaze all over their precious black metal. If you just read that and said “It me!” you’ll probably want to skip Bergraven‘s latest tossed genre salad Det framlidna mennet. And while we’re at it, your bullet belt would look a lot less silly if you accessorized it with an M-60. Think of the trveness!
Det framlidna mennet is the fourth full-length and first in ten(!) years by Sweden’s black metal black sheep Bergraven. While it’s far from blackgaze, it is also decidedly not the icy low-fi affair preferred by corpse-painted purists. The black metal here is indeed rough-hewn and the vocals are harsh in that authentically unpolished way, but added to the Mayhem-isms are angular Godspeed You! Black Emperor post-rock structures and experimental jazz flourishes that include saxophone, flute and vibraphone. The result is an album that rocks hard, spits acid and takes sudden introspective left turns in equal measure. Det framlidna mennet eases us somewhat into its weirder aspects, as the first three proper songs lean heavy on a throwback black metal sound with clean guitar lines and psychedelic jazz cropping up occasionally. They’re growers, not showers, and it took me more than a couple listens to appreciate how off-kilter these early songs are compositionally.
At the album’s midpoint, the disparate parts that make up Bergraven‘s sound splinter into a stunning and unpredictable three song run. A drugged up jazz dirge led by a bleary saxophone morphs into an unsettling piano line to open “Leendet av hans verk.” This is followed by an acoustic guitar passage that is part Opeth and part Jar of Flies while Pär Stille’s equally unpolished but charming clean vocals carry the song forward. For over eight minutes it cycles through more jazz, some post-metal grandeur and blackened blasts before ending on a warbled guitar line. It’s easily one of the most riveting metal/metal-adjacent songs I’ve heard in 2019 so far. “Den dödes stigar” follows this with surprisingly clean and deceptively straightforward atmoblack. It sounds almost like a different album has started playing until Stille stumbles in with “drunk black metal uncle making a scene at Thanksgiving” vocals and an extended trippy, minimal midsection, adding contrast and odd beauty, respectively. Final song “Till priset av vårt liv” is equal parts skronking dissonance and head-bobbing groove, which periodically grows slower until it shuffles over the finish line more than ten minutes later.
Jaw-dropping second half aside, Det framlidna mennet has a few limiting factors. The intro and outro tracks both feature messy drum skittering and jerky guitar strummery that says “I’m avant-garde!” a little too emphatically. And as already stated, the first three songs feature a more loose-limbed black metal that didn’t impress initially, but grew on me over subsequent spins. In a way, the back half provided me with a key to unlock my enjoyment of the slightly more subtle weirdness found early on. It was a bit disappointing to see “Minnets melankoli” as the only advance track prior to release. While it does introduce most of the elements at play and is itself enjoyable, it can seem rough without the context of the other songs.
Experimental structures and cross-genre pollination may prevent the trvest among us from embracing Bergraven‘s deconstructed black metal. Then again, I may be–I hope to be–wrong. Stille and his collaborators are certainly not trend chasers. They stick tight to their unique vision and produce a sound that few, if any, other bands explore. At the end of the day, what’s trver than that?