Sometimes, when you hear a new band, you are reminded of a long-forgotten gem that is hidden in the recesses of your mind. As years pass, you forget certain things, sure, but it’s always interesting when something jostles your memory banks and brings back a flood of missing memories. Stilla, the alter ego of Sweden’s Bergraven plus vocalist A. Petterson (De Arma) are an interesting proposition. Atmospheric, moody, and cold, Stilla have a very creative little gem of an album with Ensamhetens andar [Spirits of Loneliness in translation – AMG], their second full-length. In their pursuit of atmosphere and the desire to be at one with nature, they opened up an unexpected floodgate.
Lead-off track “Vandring utan spår” starts with an interesting bassline, sliding jangly guitars, and Petterson’s tortured howls, but once the keyboards kick in, I’m instantly reminded of early Old Man’s Child, circa Born of the Flickering. You know, pre-Dimmu Borgir and pre-bad moustache. But instead of retreading long-forgotten waters, in Stilla‘s case, it’s a progression of an older theme. Colder, a bit more maniacal (thanks to Petterson), with some interesting musicianship, especially in bassist Andreas Johansson’s popping, distorted basslines, which bring to mind Anacrusis (again, a favorite of mine). Hardly a complaint here.
Ensamhetens Andar is dripping with atmosphere from start to finish. “Till slutet” slows things down to a crawl about a minute and a half in, with Patterson growling and whispering over an atonal acoustic guitar, and with a magnificent use of keyboards towards the middle. “Hjärta av sten” glistens with an icy melody, recalling forgotten cabins in Sweden in the dead of winter, before going to war in that classic black metal fashion. Petterson’s vocal diversity is a key component to this album’s success, with some great singing (the title track) and maniacal screams (“Vandring utan spår”), but with some exceptions, everyone is on their A-game here.
And now you are wondering, “Grymm, what are those exceptions?” Well, “Själavrängaren,”otherwise a very gallopy blackened jaunt, has a whiny guitar part almost two minutes in, trying to aim for “atmospheric and moody” and instead lands in “hey, isn’t that the slide-guitar part in Mötley Crüe‘s ‘Without You’?” territory, and it lasts for almost a good minute and a half. Just… no. Also, it’s pretty cool to hear the acoustic guitar melodies by themselves, as they’re very creative and tastefully executed, but too bad the production kills it if there is any distorted guitars or drums present in the room. Yes, this is black metal. But when they’re THAT well played, well, don’t you want to hear them a bit better? I would still kill for that bass tone, though.
Ensamhetens andar is a rather interesting album. Icy, cold, glistening, and moody as all get-out. If you can find it, hunt it down. There is some solid musicianship on here, and if you remember a certain Old Man’s Child record with a bat flying on a purple background, well, its spiritual descendent is here. Now to look up cabins in Sweden…