Svartsot – Kumbl Review

What should be said of the workhorses? The acts that caught your ear once and never let go? Not the kings of the mountain, no, but perennially at least at base camp. Like your dad used to say, the world needs 2.75-rated records too. Svartsot surmounted the folk metal summit but once with their 2007 debut Ravnenes Saga; their three shots at the top since have fallen well shy of that peak. Still, their thick-axed folkery scratches a certain itch, and given the Danes’ obligation to their sound, there’s little chance their fifth album, Kumbl, will be a disaster. There’s also little chance it’ll be a hit.

It’s immediately obvious how well-comported Svartsot are by this point. From the respective shanty and campfire vibes to the hook-centric construction, “Nu Stander Landen I Våde” and “Kragevisen” epitomize won’t-hurt-nobody music. There’s nary a note out of place, exactly what you’d expect from a band as practiced in their sound as this. Fans of Finntrollfest will find the scenery particularly familiar, and not just because the paths Kumbl tread are worn to dirt. Cris Frederiksen’s deep gutturals and riffs both are death metal-worthy, anchoring a proceeding as burly as a brown bear patrolling the forest. The sun peeks through the canopy in the form of boilerplate folk passages — weird instruments, backing vox, you know the drill – that juxtapose1 the heaviness of most songs. None will excite you — “Rottefængeren” features the album’s most notable folk section, but only because its backing vocals are the opposite of enticing — but they get the job done, much like the rest of the record.

If there’s one huge drawback here (trust me, there is), it’s the utterly disposable nature of it all. This is bell-curve metal at its finest. Kumbl rarely features a passage that pops its head out of the trenches, forget an entire song. Hell, the instrumental intro of “Den Hoboeken Dans” might be the most interesting track here, and it’s a bleeding Tielman Susato cover. Any time Cris Frederiksen picks his grandpa’s guitar up, the sound is illuminated (see “Den Store Stygge Stimand” and the aforementioned “Kragevisen”). The rest of the time, the music is devoid of anything characteristic, anything spooky, dire, acrobatic, rousing, just pick an adjective and assume it doesn’t apply here. That previous Finntrollfest reference was to set the base level of the sound. But whereas those acts climb up the mountain toward something more, Svartsot is content to laze around the campfire. No other ideas can possibly make headway when the band is constantly running back to the well for another folkfest. “Ramund” might be the best of those, working its smoky whispers for a spell, but even that cannot escape yet another two-dimensional folk riff.

The other aspect missing here is, if not fun, then at least enthusiasm. Kumbl is a folk metal album that spends half its run drafting off an Amon Amarth pace car. It’s less serious than it is grounded, but with writing as tired as this, it doesn’t matter how many tin whistles and bagpipe passages Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen throws at you. Chunks of highlight “Den Store Stygge Stimand” and “Drømte Mig En Drøm” exhibit touches of pace suggesting that, yes, this An-2252 is capable of reaching the clouds if Svartsot ever saw fit to fill it with gas. In what appears to be his first production gig, drummer Frederik Uglebjerg’s mix is certainly as appropriate as his kitwork — thick as you like in the midsection, but with a wide enough berth for the variety of folk instrumentation to breakthrough. You won’t write home about either, but neither will they hold the record back. Then again, you could say that about this whole mess, couldn’t you?

I am amazed that Kumbl passes with barely a song worth mentioning; it’s more amazing still that I can say I don’t hate it; I’d have to care first. For better or worse, Svartsot successfully molded their sound into the perfect bag of plain potato chips. It’s air and salt, and you need both to live. You eat one, you eat three, you forget how many you’ve eaten, your whole fist’s in the bag, satiety as out of reach as when you began. The addictiveness lies not in its overt qualities, but in some other subconscious need to consume. In a genre where the act of doing is half the battle these days. Kumbl certainly fucking does. It just doesn’t do it for me.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Mighty Music
Releases Worldwide: February 25th, 20223

Show 3 footnotes

  1. You can’t fire me, I quit.
  2. This reference was much less sad when I started writing this review two months ago.
  3. I had a kid, fucking sue me.
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