Fornhem – Stämman från Berget Review

What a month and a bit it’s been, huh? The notoriously stingy site that is AMG has suddenly begun handing out 4.0s and 4.5s like candy on Halloween. We’ve been awash with blazingly fast tech-death, weird disso-death, avant-garde black metal, stoner, and prog. Know what we haven’t had much of? Good ole fashioned black metal. You know what I’m talking about: the classic stuff. The records you put on when someone says they like “all genres of music.” The collections that scare your non-metal friends. Well, Fornhem is here to try to join the party with a refreshingly unpretentious platter of Nordic black metal. Hailing from Sweden, Fornhem was formed as a duo in 2013, and have a single full-length under their belt (2017’s Ett Fjärran Kall). Their latest effort, Stämman från Berget (The Voice from the Mountain), features a new guitarist but an old-school sound. Is traditional black metal muscling its way into the high-scoring goodness?

Stämman från Berget is about a hermit who spends ten years seeking enlightenment on a mountain. In an interesting twist, he actually finds it, and discovers that it is not 42. Rather, God is dead, and the only meaning to life is the meaning we give it. If this seems somewhat simplistic and unoriginal at first blush, it’s actually representative of Fornhem’s music on the album. There’s a certain charm, however, to such a wholesome embrace of black metal’s atheistic/anti-theistic roots. The music mirrors the narrative’s lack of pretension: the aesthetic here is firmly grounded in the second-wave mold, with some post-black, atmo-black and folk flourishes to let you know that they know that it’s not 1994. So, the formula is solid. But sometimes, Fornhem‘s take on the formula is… less so.

When it works, the album is a nostalgic and comforting throw-back to an earlier time. It also manages to successfully blend its influences together without sounding overly derivative. The best songs combine chillingly compelling melodic riffs which build to a climax before being completed by a slower, almost post-metal denouement. Not original, by any means, but very competently pulled off. This ebb-and-flow dynamic is easy to get wrong, and fortunately, Fornhem generally nail it. “Uþarba Spa” and “Stämman från Berget” make use of this template to excellent effect, and there is a strong whiff of early Mayhem to these tracks. These are accentuated by an icy, but not raw, production that lends an air of frigid authenticity to the music.

The major downside to Stämman från Berget is that the band relies a little too heavily on repetition. There are only five songs on the album, and three are longer than 10 minutes. While repetition can be effective, and is used to good effect to build momentum on opener, “Den Längsta Dagen,” there are too many instances when it only serves to plump out the run-time. I get that it’s intended to evoke a certain ritualism, but too often, it’s just dull. “Forlist,” for example, has two main melodies that are repeated over and over, until they become wearying, which ends up reducing the impact of the song. The most egregious offender however, is album closer, “Untergang,” which is 12 minutes of post-metal which goes nowhere, and reminded me a little of Spectral Lore’s 20 minute ambient closer on the recent Ετερόφωτος. It’s simply no coincidence that most of the album’s best songs are its shorter ones.

Ultimately, Stämman från Berget is a mixed bag. When Fornhem keep things (relatively) short and sharp, they have enough melodic nous and experience to ensure the songs have a real bite. But too often, they rely on repetition of not particularly exciting riffs, which drags the album down. This also dilutes the shorter, better tracks. Like many black metal albums this year, I enjoyed listening to this, but I don’t think I’ll be returning to it much. This style has been done before, and done better. If you’re a second-wave worshipper whose basic black metal itch has remained unscratched these past few weeks, give this a whirl; it may just scratch it. The rest of us, however, will probably just go back to the classics.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Trollmusic
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 5th, 2021

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