One month down in 2019 and we’re off to the races. January was by most accounts, excepting the eventual contrarians in the comments section, a relatively slow month. After an almost overwhelming and backloaded 2018, the first month of 2019 felt like a pretty tepid start to the year. Fortunately, there were still some diamonds in the rough. So here’s three albums—two which received the reviews they deserved and one which was unfairly maligned—that I think that you should give your consideration from January of 2019.
Musmahhü plays a brand of blackened death metal that has all the red flags associated with music that tends to put me to sleep. Reign of the Odious is performed and recorded by one Swedish dude called
Slartibartfast, Designer of Fjords Swartadauþuz. The record has a cavelike production and guitar tone that is vaguely reminiscent of kazoos. And after grabbing down the media for Nameless N00b_04‘s review, I spent a while trying to figure out whether or not this guy or his label are Nazis.1 In spite of the worries, Reign of the Odious stands out. In fact, it’s one of the best recent examples of this sound. While atmospheric, Musmahhü is never dull or monotonous. Instead, Reign of the Odious reminds me of Adversarial‘s All Idols Fall before the Hammer; loaded with great ideas and a palpable sense that it’s about a half inch from going off the rails. Such chaos and a difficult production job make the album feel unhinged. And that unhinged feeling makes Reign of the Odious an album worth returning to; something raw and extreme. The n00b who reviewed this gushed, calling it “one of the first fantastic albums of 2019.” I am wont to agree.
Soilwork // Verkligheten — I popped on Verkligheten expecting, as usual, to not like it. Soilwork is a band that we’ve never given great reviews to at AMG because Soilwork is a band that hasn’t put out great records. Verkligheten is different. Not different in the sense that it’s a huge departure for the band (though Dr. Wvrm thought it was). Rather, it’s different in that all the pieces feel in place. Verkligheten avoids the contrived feeling that has defined the band’s sound for me. Instead, the band’s trademark of groovy riffs, catchy hooks and big choruses hits home consistently throughout Verkligheten. While on previous albums this felt formulaic, Verkligheten features some of the best songs from these guys yet and they translate live even better than on the record.2 With melodies worthy of Björn and Benny and riffs worthy of 1990s Gothenburg, Verkligheten finds Soilwork aging a lot more gracefully than I would ever have imagined.
A Swarm of the Sun // The Woods — Steel Druhm rounded out his review of A Swarm of the Sun‘s The Woods by saying it’s “music to despair and brood to; cold and heartbreaking, written for those who like to hurt even when they do not need to.” If I were to summarize The Woods in two words, they would be “aching beauty.” This album falls pretty far outside of my normal wheelhouse, but A Swarm of the Sun has a talent for building ideas and intensity at a brutally slow pace. Fragile and minimalist at times, The Woods also features impressively heavy passages; it’s like classic Katatonia played at half-speed. Druhm is right: The Woods is an album to despair to. It’s like an audio rendition of Ingmar Bergman’s Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light); a feeling of the pain of loneliness and the ‘understanding that no one understands.’3 It will make you enjoy of deep sadness.
- As far as I can tell, they aren’t. Which would be a nice change of pace for anything that vaguely resembles black metal in the 2000s. ↩
- “Full Moon Shoals” has what I think will go down as one of the best riffs of 2019 and Strid at his melodic best. ↩
- This is an English paraphrase of what one character says: “Det måste ha varit ett lindande! Att förstå att ingen förstår.” — In the movie, the line is delivered by a man with a physical disability who holds a fantastic speech at the end of the film about the how everyone gets so caught up on the physical pain that Jesus experienced during the crucifixion. But, he says, he thinks the real suffering was that Jesus was abandoned by his closest friends and that showed that they hadn’t even understood what he was trying to say. “They abandoned him—all of them. And he was left alone. That must have been suffering. To be abandoned when one really needs someone to trust. Terrible suffering.” But, he goes on, that’s not the worst. No, during the crucifixion, Jesus screamed: “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He then says: “Christ was struck by enormous doubt just minutes before he died. That must have been his most torturous suffering: God’s silence.” The speech and passage have a significance which you’ll understand when you watch it. I heartily recommend that you check it out. It’s part of the Criterion Collection and can be rented digitally. It’s also available for free on SVT Play until the 9th of February if you’re in Sweden. Ingmar Bergman was such a fucking genius. ↩