Netherbird – Arete Review

If you look up the phrase “almost great” online, you’re likely to see a picture of Swedish band, Netherbird. These guys having been kicking around since 2004, and have released several quality albums without ever quite reaching the level of “Oh yeah, I know those guys!” in the metal world. If Netherbird were a person, they’d be that fun dude at the party you enjoy hanging out with, but don’t really remember until the next time you see him again. And then you have to ask the host to remind you of his name. Arete is their sixth album proper, billing itself as the third in the trilogy that began with 2016’s The Grander Voyage and 2019’s Into the Vast Uncharted. After knocking on the door for so long, is this, finally, the one that brings them into the first tier?

With Arete, Netherbird lean harder into the melodic side of black metal than ever before. While early, rawer collections paid homage to Bathory and, in particular, Dissection, the more recent stuff has evolved to become more epic, sweeping and grand. It has also become a lot more listener-friendly, with shiny production and hummable melodies. While Dr. Wvrm was impressed with this direction, I was less enamored. The long-form tracks were more than competently handled, but I felt that the band lost power and bite in the search for accessible melody. What made them interesting to begin with became diluted. Arete, for better or worse, continues the trend towards the accessible, following in the footsteps of its recent predecessors. In many ways, it feels like a logical progression and your enjoyment of it will largely depend on whether you liked the direction that came before.

 

Arete’s songwriting is consistently solid, with very few obvious weak spots. From the opening bars of first track proper, “Towers of the Night,” it’s clear the listener is in safe hands. Melodies are catchy, dynamics are solid, progressions logical. This is all “good.” And many of the songs are indeed “very good™.” “Void Dancer” has the energetic lilt of a drunken Scotsman, “Mystes” has a forceful energy that propels it forward, interspersed with some righteous solos. The riffs throughout are generally fun and there is more than enough variety scattered throughout that Arete never feels dull. But… very songs are able to break out of the “very good” mold. As a result, while Arete flies very competently, it hardly ever soars. I enjoyed listening to it every time, without ever feeling that sucker punch that separates the very good from the great.

“Infernal Vistas” is the exception, and, maddeningly, highlights what Netherbird are capable of when they’re not just being good. The breakdown, in which lead singer Johan Fridell growls, “Fire! Chaos!” is absolutely electric. And the denouement of blast beats overlaying a slightly slower time signature, replete with magical tremolos, is elite. It’s the one song I kept returning to and if Arete had a few more of these, it would be RotM material. Sadly, these highs are not as frequent as they should be. This may be because, as in previous albums on this trilogy, the search for accessibility comes at the expense of bite, with songs like “The Silence of Provenance” sounding a bit too much like a watered down Dissection tossed lightly with a bit of Tribulation.

With Arete, Netherbird have made another “good™” album. As with their previous efforts, it falls short of greatness, for many of the same reasons, the primary one simply being that great albums require great songs, and Arete only has one, perhaps two. This is counterbalanced by the fact that there are almost no bad songs, either. This is a rock-solid, accessible, melodic collection that I have no doubt fans of black metal will enjoy listening to. Like previous efforts, however, it fails to deliver a knock-out punch. As a result, it’s unclear how much you’ll remember come year-end. Sadly, unless Netherbird rediscover their bite, it’s likely they will continue to be that guy at the party: the one you enjoying hanging with, but whose name you can’t remember the next day.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 12 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eisenwald Records
Websites: netherbird.bandcamp.com/album/arete  |  facebook.com/netherbird
Released Worldwide: August 6th, 2021

« »