There are few genres as on-the-nose as black metal. Case in point, the bunch of Swedes in Vanhelga, which means “to desecrate or profane” in Swedish. The last time these fine fellows rolled through here two albums ago, our local corpse-painted cat, Grymm, covered them, and even talked the folks upstairs into giving them a runner-up spot for RotM April 2014. Since then, madman/guitarist 145188 has taken over mic duties as well, but they still ply a demented, melancholy flavor of DSBM with plenty of soaring melodic counterpoints to all the misanthropy. As a long-running band (albeit one I was not familiar with), the question arises as it always does: what do they bring to the table this time?
Befitting their prior MO, Fredagsmys offers an off-balance listening experience,1 in this case wobbling between the icy crunch of tremolo work on the fretboard and a warmer, almost triumphant melodic through-line, all over a weighty bass and clattering drums, with 145188’s sinister snarling rounding out the package. The contrast between icy cold and warm sunlight serves to enhance both flavors on such tracks as opener “Sömnparalys” [“Sleep Paralysis”], with its bitterly frosty plucked lead-in offering a counterpoint to an intermittently victorious guitar melody. The same contrast is seen in the charging, fiery “You Are Temporary,” and “Förpassad till misär” [“Consigned to Misery”] which features a heady, ear-catching combination of point-counterpoint in its dueling guitar lines. Also highly engaging is the frosty tremolo of both “Varde mörker” [“Care for Darkness”] and “Två blir ett” [“Two Become One”] playing off a particularly robust, surging bassline, especially in the excellent “Två blir ett.” In general, Fredagsmys offers a more traditional black metal experience than some of their prior work, while still hybridizing with the manic energy and demented melodic sensibilities of that earlier work.
There a few dud tracks. “Ensam mot alla” [“Alone against Everyone”] is a bit sedate, taking too long to build up what little steam it has in the (slightly muted) tremolo, and with the chanting over softer-toned guitar overstaying its welcome just a bit. Similarly, the closing title track spends a good 15 seconds too long in the intro, with the song suffering for the loss of momentum to close the album. The spoken-word-like bits—or outright spoken in the case of the otherwise-quite-good “You Are Temporary,”—are at times silly, melodramatic, or obnoxious, but most are short, making them a minor problem.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the album is its runtime. Fredagsmys clocks in at a robust 55 minutes, and some quirk of the songwriting, perhaps the consistent mid-pace tempo stretches this further, leaving the album feeling much more bloated than it is. The production is stellar, though, so while feeling bloated, the listening experience is never unpleasant, with the guitar and bass tone contrasting beautifully as noted above. The mix is one of the best I’ve heard in black metal, with the guitar and drum work resting lightly on top of the rich, thick bass, with vocals rising and falling well above the instruments without ever drowning anything out. Usually, I would insert a gripe about the level of compression in the master, here, but the mix and production work in concert with it to produce and excellent-sounding album, nonetheless.
Over 15 years into their career, Vanhelga are still going strong, and this oddly-summery record is another good example of their work. Check this out, whether you have reservations about its length or no. It’s well worth your time.