I typically associate the Norwegian style of black metal with either the raw aggression of say Gorgoroth, Carpathian Forest or Taake or the more classic atmospheric beauty of Burzum or Ulver. One of my favorite movie depictions of this very dedicated brand of black metal is that goose-bump moment in Until the Light Takes Us when Fenriz is sitting on the train and Ulver‘s “Not Saved” starts playing… atmosphere as thick as mist you can’t help re-playing that moment over and over. So when did this very somber brand of metal, so dedicated to opposition, start to follow the crowd and take on such a dirty, ear-friendly, catchy groove?
Intrigued by rumblings of an EP release during 2012 and the ‘early Black Sabbath inspired, groovy black metal’ label that Dark Essence or Karisma Records pinned to Slegest. AND making the discovery that that Slegest is (or at least until very recently was) the solo project of ex-Vreid guitarist Ese (yup he was indeed the man behind the black ‘n roll riffing on Vreid‘s Kraft, Pitch Black Brigade, I Krig and Milorg albums). I attacked Løyndom (or Secret) with gusto and maybe even just a bit of hopeful delight that this would be the Welcome Farewell that Vreid promised.
Løyndom is made up of eight tracks which I find a little ironic being that the overall sound of the album reminds me of something left over from the late 70’s early 80’s, bringing to mind the tail end of the eight-track tape era. “Ho Som Haustar Aleine,” “Rooted In Knowledge” and “I Slike Stunder” kick off sounding like they’d fit in reasonably well on a Sabbath tribute album. The tracks are mid-paced in the same vein as Khold‘s “Blod Og Blek” and have the same devil-may-care, rocking repetition of some of Sarke‘s offerings. What throws things largely off kilter with this Sabbath/Tony Iommi-homage is that barring an abundance of fat, chugging, nicely buzzing repetitive riffs, Ese’s guitar solos lack color and prominence. The pace picks up around the mid point and tracks “Løgna Sin Fiende,” “Faceless Queen,” “Dirt Life Death” and “Past Burden Strength” taunt and tease you not to bang your head.
For the most part, Løyndom is a fun listen, it’s the kind of album I’d throw on at full volume while taking to the open road. That said, I have some gripes, first things first, while Ese has some neat and simply structured guitar solos scattered across the album (“I Slike Stunder”, “Løgna Sin Fiende” and “The Path Of No Return” being my favorites), these mournful interludes are so pulled back in the mix that unless you’re sitting holding your breath waiting for them, blink and you’ll miss them. This brings me to my second gripe: because these moments (that should stand out and orientate you) are so fleeting and easily missed combined with the repetative riffing, the eight songs eventually start to sound so alike that it’s difficult to separate the current track from the one that precedes it – each quite literally merge and meld into one another, making them largely unmemorable [Bring back the word “samey”!! — Steel “OCCUPY AMG” Druhm].
The production on the album is probably best described as a mixed bag. The drums and guitar riffs are nicely placed and have just the right amount of fuzz to remain true to Sabbath‘s sound. The guitar solos spend most of their short lives haunting like melancholic ghosts in the background and Ese’s gruff croaks are too far back and are rarely (if ever) given the focus they so sorely deserve. Apart from playing all the instruments on Løyndom (outside of a guest solo by former band mate, Sture), Ese recorded and mixed most of the album at his Systrond Studio, with the remainder taking shape at Conclave and Earshot Studio with Bjørnar Nilsen (Helheim and Taake) at the helm. Finally the album was mastered by Herbrand Larsen (Enslaved, Gorgoroth and Taake). And seeing how many sets of hands this album passed through, and the combined experience across all Løyndom‘s handlers – how did it go wrong?
As is the nature of life, all things change and evolve. Why should Norway’s black metal be exempt. And further, why would you want it to be? I had high hopes for Løyndom, but it seems it’s following on in Vreid‘s footsteps, less welcome and more farewell. If you’re a fan of predictability, this ones for you!