Ofdrykkja – After the Storm Review

Since its inception in 2012, Ofdrykkja seems to have been labeled as atmoblack. That was just about accurate for 2014 debut, A Life Worth Losing, although even then there were indications that these Swedes had designs on something grander. That proved to be the case, as the band’s sound has continued to grow and evolve through Irrfärd (2017) and Gryningsvisor (2019), with black metal largely abandoned on the latter, save for some occasional, harsher vocals (see “Wither” and “As the Northern Wind Cries”), in favor of exploratory post-rock and Scandinavian neo-folk. What black metal influences remained, bore a sonic resemblance to DSBM. While Ofdrykkja played in that ballpark lyrically, discussing issues of death, addiction, self-harm and mental health struggles, and isolation, the band always distanced itself from the DSBM genre, instilling its music with some sense of hope, rather than glorying in the misery. Returning in 2022 with an album entitled After the Storm, it seems unlikely then that Ofdrykkja will have gone second-wave BM.

Indeed, if Gryningsvisor was the storm, then this is going to be a calm and stripped-back affair indeed. And so it proves. Minimalist, melancholic and mournful, After the Storm is devoid of all traces of black metal, while remaining metal adjacent and most certainly atmospheric. Ofdrykkja offer a soothing balm for the tattered remnants of my emotions as we reach the back end of 2022. If you drew in something of the Nordic wildness of Wardruna and the laconic neofolk of Osi and the Jupiter, and then set it to the ambience of Unreqvited EPs Rain and River, you’d be getting pretty close. Ofdrykkja makes sparing use of percussion, using it largely as a punctuation point, rather than a rhythmic device. With whole chunks of the album percussion-free, what there is tends toward delicate work on cymbals and ominous patterns on the shaman drum.

Against this bare landscape, Ofdrykkja uses key and Celtic harps, viola, folk guitar and electronics to build up a canvas onto which the multiple vocals are layered. Contributed by longstanding members Ahlström and Jansson (previously billed as Pessimisten), together with guest Miranda Samuelsson, these are ethereal melodies (“After the Storm,” in particular) and hymns chanted (and occasionally croaked: “The Cleansing”) to the wild. Album closer, “Beyond the Belt of Orion,” is an 8-minute composition, over which a spoken word tale is woven. Largely dark reflections on a tragic period in someone’s life, there is, however, a vague promise of light at the end of the tunnel in some of the material. Although coming through most overtly in that spoken word passage, this feeling is an undercurrent that runs through the record, which feels faintly uplifting.

The natural evolution of the journey from Gryningsvisor, After the Storm is one of those records that, for all its apparent simplicity, reveals additional depths on each listen. After my first spin, I almost wrote it off as, essentially, a bit of a nothing record, lacking in heft, both musically and emotionally. Having now spent more time with it, I remain of the view that, while well done for what it is, the musical side of things is lacking in bite. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting it needs blasts and trem picking, nor that I found myself craving rasped vocals. Rather, Ofdrykkja has stripped back the music to such a degree, that it leaves me with only a vague impression of yearning, heartache and hope. At the same time, this is precisely why my initial impression that it lacked emotional heft was wrong. While musically I want more, After the Storm does succeed in communicating what I believe to be its message, namely that even the darkest of storms will eventually break and allow hints of the light to creep back in.

Produced so as to give the album a crystalline, reverberating quality, this emphasizes the fragility that Ofdrykkja has baked into its music. It would be easy for a record like After the Storm to outstay its welcome and slip into tedium but, at a mere 31 minutes, Ofdrykkja has gauged it well. While it did grow on me from my first take, I feel that After the Storm is somewhat limited. What it does, it does very well but, for me, it lacks an undefinable something. Whether that something is more percussion, to add a Wardruna-like mesmerizing quality, or leaning harder into a classical grandeur, I am unsure but, as it is Ofdrykkja is so restrained that it has slightly undermined its own creation.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AOP Records
Websites: ofdrykkjaofficial.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ofdrykkja
Releases Worldwide: November 25th, 2022

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