When I was a pimply-faced, mullet-headed teenager-cat, I loved watching bands I followed grow and develop their trademark sounds over time and across albums. I did so with equal parts glee and trepidation. On one hand, it’s cool to see bands take their collective influences and morph them into something completely their own. On the other hand, some morphed themselves into a rather comfortable box to grow complacent inside of, settling into a familiar niche that, while successful, doesn’t allow much wiggle room for progression without alienating their fanbase. Case in point: while Denmark’s Slægt dropped a hell of an EP in 2015’s Beautiful and Damned, last year’s follow-up, Domus Mysterium, crammed too many instrumentals and long-winded songs without much progression in their sound. To call it a bit worrying would be an understatement.
Thankfully, if The Wheel is anything to go by, Domus Mysterium was just a slight hiccup, as it tightens things up considerably, saying more with less. They still wear their Dissection influences on their sleeves, but rock the fuck out on the same wavelength as Tribulation. Opener “Being Born (Is Going Blind)” bursts with urgency and energy, taking their Gothenburg influences and adding some old-school thrash hooks and rhythms to stand apart from their peers. The acoustic guitar flourishes and arpeggios remain, but they’re incorporated better than before, acting as a functional piece of the song rather than beautiful window-dressing.
Another chief complaint I had with Domus Mysterium was how bloated it felt, with only a handful of songs keeping below the five minute mark (with two of them being instrumentals). Slægt seemingly agreed, and with the exception of the closing title track, none of the songs stretch into the seven-minute mark, keeping a tight, concise album that carves out the fat, and leaves one hell of a feast. “Citrinitas” grooves with murderous intent, with a chorus that will remain in your head for weeks to come. But it’s the album’s standout cut, “Perfume and Steel,” that would pole-vault these guys into the same hallowed level as Tribulation in a just world, as the hooks and melodies remain as infectious and catchy as their Swedish vampiric counterparts, with both vocalist Asrok and Anders M. Jørgensen riffing away like possessed madmen.
Sure, there are a few slight bumps along the road, with the title track still feeling a bit too padded out, but the streamlining and songwriting growth exhibited on The Wheel further cements Slægt‘s standing as a band to keep an eye on. Even the production is a big step up, with Ccsquele’s drumming sounding more organic, and the guitars no longer sounding like they came from a long-lost Dick Dale demo. The Wheel stands proudly as Slægt‘s strongest album to date, and it would be criminal to not give this a passing listen at the very least.
Tracks to Check Out: “Perfume and Steel,” “Citrinitas,” “Being Born (Is Going Blind),” “Gauntlet of Lovers,” “The Wheel”