Remember the SpongeBob SquarePants episode wherein our favorite absorbent, yellow, and porous pineapple-inhabiting sea sponge must write an eight hundred word essay for Mrs. Puff about what not to do at a stoplight? After prepping his writing materials and workspace, SpongeBob stares at his dauntingly blank piece of paper and exclaims, “this is harder than I thought!” Stumped by what to write, he proceeds to spend his time doing everything from calisthenics to calligraphy to help rid him of writer’s block. Alas, it was all to no avail. Few albums leave me grappling at thin air for words after multiple listens. But even after spending copious amounts of time with Led into Exile, V‘s new sophomore album, I couldn’t help but feel like I was living SpongeBob’s nightmare.
I gritted my teeth and, listen after listen, aspired to find something, anything, worth spewing words about for this here angry blog. Eventually, the pressure of my own looming deadline became too much, and I had to chalk my loss for words up to the fact that Led into Exile is among the most comfortably mediocre albums I have encountered. V, a doomy post-metal band from Sweden, released their first album Pathogenisis in 2017 and are back this year with a six-track concept album. Inspired by a short story concerning the departure from the hustle and bustle of civilization into the wild and remote Finnmark in Dalecarlia, Sweden, Led into Exile chronicles a story of the hardships of living in Finnmark, a will to be secluded from the rest of the world’s insanity, and the ultimate disappearance of one who surrendered to the siren song drifting from the taiga-belt.
Not counting the symmetrically pleasing album art, if there’s one thing V did right on their latest release, it’s the way their style of bone-chilling sludge provides a logical sonic backdrop for the frigid, barren landscape described in their story. First track “Broadcast from the Shadows” starts with a mounting drone met with sweeping drums and a deliciously molten riff that had me at the edge of my seat. But when hardcore vocals emerged around 1:30 all bets were off – vocalist Baier’s forced bellowing vocals unfortunately aren’t my wheelhouse. Moving from the jittery sludge of “Illviljan” reminiscent of a slowed down “Green Machine” by Kyuss to the smatterings of vibraphone on “None Shall Rise Again” and the four minute brooding ambient outro on “Hostage of Souls,” it is impossible to avoid being addled by V‘s incompatible sounds. The lumbering, jazzy respite in the middle of the final song, the title track, completely blew any prior confusion I had out of the water and made me question my sanity. The only viable explanation for this awkward portion is that they took Steel’s feedback to heart and ran with it…far.
The solid riffs, take ’em or leave ’em vocals, and baffling stylistic choices were all fine and dandy until I remembered that V‘s lineup includes Daniel Liljekvist, ex-drummer for both Katatonia and In Mourning, and Andreas Baier, guitarist and vocalist for the psychedelic stoner metal band Besvärjelsen. Revealing V‘s pedigree confirmed my lack of enthusiasm for their new release and deepened my confusion regarding the bizarre mashup of hardcore doomy sludge and jazzy walking basslines. The release of V‘s EP VI was delayed an entire decade due to obligations Daniel and Andreas had with their other bands, and it is readily apparent on Led into Exile that those members may have still been focusing the majority of their time and creative energy elsewhere.
I can’t say I’ll be making the trek with V back to Finnmark again since my reaction to Led into Exile is one of apathy. Despite this, V demonstrated they have the chops to write expansive, rumbling riffs and tasteful drum parts so I am hopeful that with more time together to pinpoint their signature sound, things will go swimmingly for them. And in case your childhood was deprived of tales of our beloved sponge mentioned earlier and you’re dying to know whether SpongeBob completed his essay, rest assured that he did in fact manage to assemble enough thoughts together in the final minutes before the deadline. He documented all the fun activities he chose to procrastinate on writing his paper with and brought his masterpiece to class only to find that Mrs. Puff cancelled the assignment due to a teacher’s convention. Sigh, if only I had such an out with this one.