In their nearly decade long exploration of the darker themes of Swedish spirituality Heljarmaðr‘s great gray Grá resemble a stylized approach to Swedish melodic black metal that barely relies on the old masters for direction. From the project’s inception Grá was minimally staffed much like the beginnings of Heljarmaðr‘s first project Cursed 13 and likewise featured drummer Dimman to round out the duo. Their 2010 EP ‘Helfärd’ was exceptional in it’s reverence to Swedish black metal as well as melodic black metal, invoking the same ‘true’ spirit as bands like Arckanum, Domgård, and Panphage without directly relating back to the achievements of Dissection or Sacramentum. “Krämpor och Kval” from that EP remains one of my favorite Grá songs and is more or less where my interest in the project began as a great cheerleader for melodic black metal.
Beyond their debut EP Grá could only be accused of consistency with their self-titled 2012 album being a particular standout for it’s rotten, ugly vocals atop stunning melodic black metal guitar work that strayed beautifully away from the odd rush of ‘norsecore’ groups at the time. Their sound was maybe slightly likened to early Taake just in terms of semi-melodic black metal with variance though looking back at the album I find it to be their most typically ‘Swedish’ sounding record in terms of guitar work. In defiance of expectation and with greater visibility through his entrance into Dark Funeral as vocalist each of Heljarmaðr‘s projects took on a greater blast of intensity. The great exception came in the form of Grá‘s ‘Ending’ in 2015 which landed with a great thudding darkness and personally reminded me of old Satyricon and Mayhem with it’s orthodoxy and dynamic ‘true’ spirit. Less a melodic departure and more a razor-whipped epic ‘Ending’ toyed with a balance between furious riffing and restfully retreating atmospheric black metal guitar work without sounding trite or -too- post-modernist.
The project has always represented a defiance from the squalid norms of black metal, and the cheapening treatment of the genre movement as gimmickry that forgets it’s own inception. In this way Grá appear always at odds with the black metal zeitgeist, even if the trend is orthodoxy as ‘Väsen’ is a shallow breath of air down the lungs of the great corpse of Scandinavian black metal. Equally melodic and striking in it’s guitar movements Grá‘s third full-length represents a polyamorous marriage of separate-but-equal classic black metal styles but doesn’t self-consciously stray away from modern black metal guitar performances. In this sense it has an aesthetic appeal of old school flair with Ancient and Emperor-esque synth waves beneath the guitar tone and yet it seems long-gone are the Sorhin-esque riff-fests of olde. This lends itself to a mildly to a less sincere release that manages to be memorable within keyboard work above black metal guitar riffing, all of this presented without irony.
‘Väsen’ is comprised of two equal sides that amount to similarly structured movements. Each side has three four minute songs and one seven minute track that bookends the side. By structuring the tracklist like this Grá give the listener an ‘even’ and accessible listen as they progressively experiment with new sounds across the album. Though “Till Sörjerskorna” starts off with some choppy synth it wasn’t until “Krig” that I began to pay closer attention to the keyboard/synth performances on ‘Väsen’. I see now after several listens and honing in on what makes the record special that the album is meant to be a departure and an exploration beyond their past sound; In this sense this album may carry some great potential to be off-putting for it’s unexpected rock-ish riffs (“Dead Old Eyes”, “The Devil’s Tribe”) and electro synth dabbling are fair warnings for the fans who are staunchly butt-rooted in orthodoxy.
So, because of this mild change in style I think it becomes important to gauge interest towards a group like Vreid, and perhaps Emperor, when approaching ‘Väsen’ without expecting a typical Swedish sound or approach. Beyond the first 3-4 listens I only connected with the release on it’s first half (and including “Gjallarhorn”). The second half beyond that was entirely a flop for me and as a result I can’t give a high recommendation for it. 5/8 is still a generally good ratio for a heavy metal album tracklist and the arrangement of tracks is sensible as a complete experience. I’d recommend sampling “King of Decay”, “Krig” and if your interest piques jump to “Till Sörjerskorna” and make your own damned decisions from there.
|Released||April 27, 2018|
|BUY/LISTEN on Carnal Records’ Bandcamp!||Follow Gra on Facebook|
Melodic Black Metal
Drums echo in eternity. 3.0/5.0
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