Maybe it’s just me, but shoegazey black metal just isn’t as exciting as it used to be. It’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking Alcest’s debut truly was, and though Deafheaven caught a lot of flack for their apparent Pitchfork pandering, I always found Sunbather to be a captivating, dreamy, and refreshingly honest record in a genre that’s far too often up its own ass with being “cvlt” and “trve.” But as happens, the style got saturated, the pioneers got mediocre, and these days the release of a new “blackgaze” album generates about as much anticipation as getting a colonoscopy. Fortunately, Danish quintet Møl never got the memo. Formed in 2012, these boys attack with all the earnestness of yesteryear, drawing on their experience in both atmospheric black metal (Sunken) and shoegaze (Antennas to Nowhere) to deliver a fresh and biting debut that just might make you a believer once again.
In a weird coincidence, both my pre-review notes and a fan email we received both described this as “Deafheaven done right,” and that’s actually not a bad starting point. Møl possess the same sense of grandeur and triumph, with plenty of uplifting major chords over blastbeats, not to mention a vocalist whose harsh rasps bear more than a passing resemblance to George Clarke. At the same time, Møl leave the hipster interludes at the coffee shop and instead focus on making things more musically active and substantial. These 42 minutes are divided into eight cuts that average five minutes in length, each crammed with constantly morphing ideas and shifting rhythms that leave no room for repetitive drony chords. Take opener “Storm,” which builds from misty clean picking to a hammering off-kilter beat to a resonant and atmospheric conclusion that sounds like something Slowdive might have cooked up.
Through it all, the mood is wonderfully ethereal yet surprisingly aggressive, with hazy background guitars delivering constantly darting melodies while sharper riffs dominate the foreground. Amidst the frequent leads and wistful atmosphere is some skilled songwriting choices. Take second track “Penumbra,” which opens with a synthy texture before exploding into hugely triumphant chords and then returning to its synthy origins with a newfound heaviness added in. Along with follow-up “Bruma,” “Penumbra” also features a repeated vocal motif, a neat trick that adds some memorability and accessibility to a style that’s often more about mood and texture. Late standout “Ligament” accomplishes this in a different way, complementing its lush melodies with an ending that incorporates some soothing and muted clean vocals. In a record that feels tailor-made for lying on a sun-kissed beach while a Pacific breeze gently blows overhead, moments like these are the delicate brushstrokes that make Jord truly come alive.
That said, Jord is not without fault. Fourth track “Vakuum” feels proggier and generally less impressive than the rest, and combined with the instrumental follow-up “Lambda,” the middle of the album sags a bit compared to the rest. Likewise, while things are quite dynamic with the frequent shifts between softer and more explosive moments, the sheer number of ideas and transitions make Jord feel lacking in emotional climaxes. In a way the cover art is more fitting than its creator probably realized – Jord is comprised of smoothly written and thematically connected pieces that sound terrific but never quite come together to achieve something greater. Still, that’s hardly a deal breaker, and the production counters this fault with a sound that’s loud and abrasive, yet also delightfully spacious. I particularly love the symphonic feel of some of the leads, which almost makes things sound like a far better version of So Hideous.
In the end, the general feeling I have when listening to Jord is one of hope. Møl are a talented bunch who place musical substance over washy chords and obnoxious navel-gazing, and I can’t wait to see what they deliver next. The serene atmosphere, varied drumming, and musical diversity are all refreshing, and the synthesis of cutthroat aggression with wistful dreaminess is pulled off incredibly well for such a young band. Likewise, there’s no shortage of great melodies, with the closing duo “Virga” and “Jord” delivering some moments that recall Lantlos or an even hazier Harakiri for the Sky. Ultimately, while I’m not sure blackgaze will ever be as exciting to me as it once was, those looking for a fresh and inspired take on the style would be remiss not to give these Danes the chance to be heard.