After starting strong with their debut record, Vorunah, Sarke went through a couple of releases trying to find themselves. Are they gonna be that band with Nocturno Culto as the frontman that sounds a lot like his other band? Or are they gonna stretch themselves and push Culto’s vocals further than ever? Since 2016’s Bogefod, Sarke has been on a steady incline that includes clean/acoustic guitars, interesting key work, and female vocals. In and around it all, they use aggressive Hellhammer/Celtic Frost moments, cold first-wave tremolo pickings, and plenty of slumbering sinisterness. Bogefod and its follow-up, Viige Urh, were fresh cuts that sounded like siblings born moments apart from one another. But where is Gastwerso‘s branch on this family tree? Is it the birth of triplets or is this a xenomorph C-section?
Well, Gastwerso is, no doubt, Sarke. But this new release demands a bit more attention than previous outings. Though all the familiar elements are here (Celtic Frosty structures with period-specific solo work, exotic key works that baffle or epicize a song, and diversified vocals in the way of Nocturno Culto and returning siren, Lena Fløitmoen), there’s something grander about Gastwerso. Not to mention, its flow—through the chaotic storms of blackened thrash to the doomy, female-fronted drizzles—is better than most of its predecessors. I’m not saying Gastwerso is AotY material, but Sarke are finally learning how to corral their horned beasts and march them out in single-file.1
And, goddamn, does it start on a high note. With a riff that snaps necks, “Ghost War” robs graves with some classic Celtic Frost-isms at their chuggy, groovy best. But, that’s not all. A dark fog of orchestration pursues the song and builds it to its mighty conclusion. Following suit, “Echoes from the Ancient Crucifix” knocks out an Abbath-like groove that drives a gear lower and is thick with melody. Both are simple pieces but their addictiveness suggest that Gastwerso might be something of real substance.
And that’s confirmed with “Mausoleum,” “Cribs Hand,” “In the Flames,” and “The Endless Wait.” Representing half of the album, these mindfucking pieces are the love-or-hate experimentations. Taking those orchestral hints from the opener, “Mausoleum” uses them to the max. This song damn-near borders on a symphonic piece. There’s so much of the stringy atmosphere in it. Lyrically and vocally, it’s catchy as Hell and the blanket of key work makes it one of the best the band has ever written. “In the Flames” and “The Endless Wait” use the low, slow, almost spoken-word vocals of Culto to cement their moods. The former does it like a sinister, horror-movie soundtrack and the latter does it like a hopeless, deathbed ballad. While “The Endless Wait” maintains its tone throughout, only switching up Culto’s vox for Fløitmoen’s, “In the Flames” is a grower that erupts in its closing moments. Much like “Mausoleum” and the opener. Closer, “Cribs Hand,” uses the same vocal approach as “In the Flames” but with the epicness of “Mausoleum.” This time, the strings are grander and the inclusion of piano, acoustic guitars, and powerful female vox make it one hell of a way to end the record.
On top of it all, Gastwerso‘s dynamics are a real treat. Dynamics that let every element of “Cribs Hand” bloom and even allow the mediocre “Rebellious Bastard” to have its bassy heyday. More than any album before it, Gastwerso maintains Sarke‘s love for Celtic Frostiness and their need to shock and diversify. But this new album does it better than most, with a near filler-less track-list that concludes at a surprising thirty-five minutes. How one packs so much into a disc with a runtime this low is beyond me. But Sarke did it and have outdone themselves with Gastwerso.