In March 2017 Wormwood‘s debut release Ghostlands: Wounds from a Bleeding Earth received a very positive review. I found it graceful and powerful, its montage of melodic sounds moving with a “ghostly smoothness that ebbs, flows, rises and falls with a mixture of beauty and malice that only impresses.” There were more than a few standout set-piece moments on that record which impress me still. However, the idea of the montage sullied my listens over the two years between records: Ghostlands, on reflection, felt too diametric in tone. Jumps from beautiful melancholy to spinning folk-metal fun were too frequent as were a reliance on transitions into segments of rock’n’roll which seemed to serve the purpose of merely sounding different to what came before. It was a record filled with promise, a taster. Now, unity and inter-connectivity – for me – is so important in a record. A record needs a motif or idea that runs throughout in aid of the music; a great record needs intertwined motifs and ideas that aid a unique musical approach.
Wormwood‘s Nattarvet is similar in length to Ghostlands, however it consists of seven tracks rather than twelve. Songs are longer, less frantic – a more mature approach to songwriting and song construction, as if Ghostlands was a way to vomit out all ideas in order to give Nattarvet a more specific focus. Openers “Av lie o börda” and “I bottenlös ävja” are solid but uninspiring. The approach seems somewhat fatigued – the opener plods and simmers, smoke without fire. There are solos and clean vocal breaks and tender moments held against darker ones which combine well and then finish. “Arctic Light” and “The Achromatic Road,” however, show Wormwood at their best, expertly mixing gentle wafting passages with snaking blackened pomp.”Tvehunger,” the penultimate track, is similarly rousing and expressive – it simply twists and writhes as violins and folk stringed instruments creak and sting above the mix. One noticeable improvement is the band’s integration of folk instruments; in Ghostlands it leaned towards the forced and hackneyed. Here it has an organic blend, thanks in part to the mix.
In “Tvehunger” string bends and grooving transitions add energy and speed to a record that, for the most part, fails to reach top gear. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Wormood have clearly chosen to take a less furious approach, looking inwards and reflecting on the self rather than epic Viking stories. Closer “The Isolationist” is a key representative of this approach, making use of lengthy lead guitar escapades. Sweet soloing above an airy soundscape is the vista for the majority of the song, interspersed with quick flashes of vocal thunder – deep guttural growls which crumble through the firmament. The tone of the song evokes more melancholy and sadness than any previous track; it has a distinctive feel which stands out from the rest, supported by rhythm sections.
My issues are with the tone and depth to the guitars. They sound wafer thin at times. They don’t sear through anything with the thick scathing poison that you’d want from black metal, albeit the melodic and folk-tinged kind. It’s not so much the tremolo leads – the rhythm section lacks a crunch and depth. It’s all shimmering light from a benevolent deity: a pretty wash of brightness. But we’re in the business of thunder and lightning; Nattarvet for the most part fails to provide the basic foundation for songs to hook their claws into the aggressive mind of the listener. In turn, this makes certain stretches of songs feel a lot less evocative, restrained. “Sunnas hädanfärd,” as a prime example, is too safe during stretches. It rehashes a lot of the excellent melancholy of previous songs in a less striking manner. Despite some excellent yet brief lead guitar soloing, the song is intent on slowing things down, speeding things up, slowing things down, and speeding things up again. The slower build ups are hindered by banal rhythm work and too much rehashing. Thankfully, a rousing ending stretch of husky viking clean vocals – much improved despite being a strong point of Ghostlands anyway – ties up the song satisfyingly.
The record is ten minutes too long. As a 43-minute record, after cutting and sacrificing and a fierce self autopsy, things could be a lot stronger. This is by no means a bad record, nor is it great. It nestles itself neatly as a stepping stone, honing the wildness of a debut into something more tangible and complete. I scored Ghostlands too high – I was greedy; the moments of greatness hooked me and blindfolded me, forcing an ignorance of the glaring inconsistencies that the record had. With Nattarvet these inconsistencies are less frequent, however the beautiful moments Ghostlands seemed to possess, if in flashes, only rarely appear here.