Formed in 2010, Grá play their brand of black metal straight down the middle. The ice-clad riff is their weapon, thrust with maniacal force at the heart. Sweden is their home and pummelling blast-beating aggression their game. A spiritual sheen, carried through their lyrics and electronic touches, coats the battle-ready stance that the band has had since their 2011 debut Grá and 2015 follow-up Ending. There is no end, though: Väsen — Swedish for supernatural or spiritual inner nature — is their third full-length. Don your battle armor and find your dusty tome of magic spells for we are venturing into the heart of Swedish black metal.
Grá have a finely crafted and finely produced sound. As with many other Swedish bands, Grá seem to have that inherent ability to whip-forward tasty strings of riffs within tight, well-formed songs. Initially, Väsen moves along at a pleasing yet somewhat-generic pace, but as the album progresses greater variety occurs. With eight-songs totaling 40-minutes, Grá have ensured that fat has been trimmed — there’s no room for panting, pot-bellied baggage on the battlegrounds of Bråviken. A battle is decided on the lean fortitude and direct savagery of the seasoned veteran. Väsen’s eight songs largely follow similar formats. Fiery, spitting bursts transition into warmer, more atmospheric sections, and back again. Opener “Till sörjerskorna” achieves this well – after an initial burst of blasts and sharp high-pitched riffs, a steadier atmospheric tone sweeps through. The final third of the song merges the two elements, integrating glitching electronics and eerie choral overlays with the lighter tones and sharper bursts.
The vast majority of Väsen is an exercise in stormy riffcraft; this is the main strength of the album. “Dead Old Eyes” cranks and grooves with blackened-thrash nonchalance and balls-to-the-walls attitude. Heavy dosages of technical-thrash akin to Coroner spice up proceedings too. Closer “Väsen” melts all the blackened subgenres together in a big seven-minute pot of wonderment. Frantic licks, melancholic rises, acoustic noodling, blasting surges, and electronic washes bring the album to a fitting end. Another strength is the croaky, grating nature to the vocals – vocalist Heljarmadr is able to vary his pitch and enunciate — when needed — well enough to bring moments of strong variation to songs. This is particularly noticeable in the excellent, though cheesy, “The Devil’s Tribe” where he growls in a clear and expressive tone above a semi-doomy, space-age throb. Throughout, in fact, his voice carries enough weight and nuance to add depth to moments that could fall into boring categories.
The more peculiar moments arrive in the form of cheesy early-’90s-esque stringed and electronic passages. The excellent “Hveðrungs Mær” opens with the tones of a morbid choir and melancholy piano. It uses this gothic energy to uphold the melodies and the less-abrasive sound of its verses. Then, at the midway point, orchestral elements usher in a groovy outburst of 80s-esque thrash tastiness. “Gjallarhorn” consists of electronic pulses (sound like a derivative version of the Stranger Things theme tune) choral chants and simple soloing — on paper it sounds intriguing, in the ear, less so. The riffs and patterns at the song’s core can’t stabilize the fancy decorations on top. Because of this, it’s an inconsistent and ultimately unsatisfying track.
On the whole, songs are uniformly good, sometimes verging on excellent, but there’s rarely any moment that stands out as being particularly special. There’s nothing wrong with this. Grá play black metal through a thinly-veiled melodic and gothic visage and they do it very well. No fuss. Play the music, head-bang to it, feel evil, drink beer. As mentioned before, a clear and powerful production makes this a very satisfying listen. Consistency and tightness are the greatest successes here.