Kjeld – Ôfstân Review

Many moons ago in the distant year of 2015, Kjeld barreled into my eardrums and then my top five with the outstanding Skym, which was and remains one of the most exciting modern black metal records I’ve heard since I started writing for this blog. Nearly six years and thirty-odd firings later, I get to write about Kjeld again, as they’re set to unleash the much-anticipated follow-up to Skym in the form of Ôfstân. Truth be told, I had no worries upon seeing the announcement of Ôfstân – I believed firmly that more Kjeld can only be a good thing.

Turns out I was right. Ôfstân is more Kjeld, and it is indeed a very good thing. Retaining the basic building blocks of second wave black metal from Skym, Kjeld seems to have pushed things in a slightly more melodious direction this time around. While these freezing Frisians are inspired by their homeland’s nature and folklore, they’re also inspired by a little place called Blashyrkh. The melodic grandeur of Immortal is deftly implemented by Kjeld in their own way, although Kjeld plays this in a darker manner. There’s also more keyboard here than on Skym, which adds a flavor of In the Nightside Eclipse to the proceedings in spots. Once again, Kjeld successfully treats their influences as influences instead of something they wish to audially Xerox. When I reviewed Skym, I engaged in a name-dropping bonanza I won’t repeat here. Suffice it to say, Kjeld knows second wave black metal, and they know how to build their own aural structure successfully on its foundations.

A positive result of the increased focus on melodiousness on Ôfstân is a greater sense of wonder in Kjeld’s music. This manifests itself most consistently in the very Immortal-esque “Asbran,” recalling the confident and adventurous spirit I’ve always felt attended All Shall Fall’s title track. With wonder, adventure, and discovery inevitably comes some manner of horror, and Kjeld doesn’t shy away from embracing the darker elements lurking in their sound. “Wite Fokel” recalls “Falsified and Hated” from Mayhem’s excellent Daemon in its use of chiming keys delivering an uneasy melody. Conversely, “Falske Doop” expertly drops into a churning rhythm with an almost Viking-esque melody over top while the vocals sound like what Attila might do if he fronted Wardrunna. Opener “Betsjoend” operates akin to a storm, with keys sounding like the howling wind and the battering of blast beats the merciless battering of the elements, and shelter being found during the more restrained parts. The riffing in “Ôfstân” is a masterclass on how to write melodious black metal without ever resorting to “melo-black” clichés.

Pound for pound, Ôfstân is nearly equal to Skym in overall quality. The one missing piece here is an absolute barnburner of a track in the vein of “Stoarm.” The mellower direction seems to have all but precluded the wonderful surprise of huge, pulverizing riffs popping up a la Emperor’s “Sworn” as occurred in “Stoarm.” Otherwise, I have little to complain about here. Kjeld’s sophomore effort runs for nearly an hour, but smart writing, judicious use of repetition, and consistently interesting song structures keep it from ever dragging. I prefer the production on Skym because it was a bit heftier overall, but the sound remains largely the same here, although the bass is slightly more defined – while it was a bit more felt than heard on Skym, here it is a bit more heard than felt. I also slightly prefer the vocal approach on Skym, though credit is due for the more adventurous and varied approach here.

Kjeld have proven themselves to be a special band over their two full-lengths, and I can unreservedly recommend Ôfstân just as I could unreservedly recommend Skym. As such, don’t take the score too much to heart – all it means is that I slightly prefer Skym. Nevertheless, Ôfstân does not represent a step down, but another step forward in Kjeld’s journey. I would be remiss not to mention the spectacular drumming, which elevates the already solid “Wylde Rixt” with its smart and memorable patterns. The cymbal work is universally wonderful, and much like on Skym the drums have a polished yet natural sound which allows all of it to be happily heard. Ôfstân is, without question, worth the hour it takes to hear it, and is a worthy, exciting, and fitting follow-up to a great debut.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Heidens Hart Records
Websites: kjeld.bandcamp.com | kjeld.fri | facebook.com/Kjeldblackmetal
Releases Worldwide: February 15th, 2021

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