Storytellers, poets and historians alike suggest the pneumonic plague, the Black Death, entered Norwegian shores through the port of Bergen in 1349. For six months the black rats and their fleas went to work infecting and killing roughly half of the country’s population all thanks to English trader ships. Fevered in hallucinogenic delirium with swollen necks and infectious breath the victims of the Black Death held no escape from their affliction and little understanding of it’s source. For Norwegians this represented an apocalypse upon their people and this serves as the inspiration for Djevel‘s fifth full-length ‘Blant Svart Graner’.
Scientists in Djevel‘s home base Oslo, Norway suggest the rampant and deadly spread of the Yersinia pestis bacteria should have been obvious in hindsight: Coughing. Yes, the bacteria comes ‘Among black grains’ from there to rats, then fleas, then humans. But what killed sixty percent of Europeans in the 14th century was possibly preventable through a habit of not breathing the same air as the infected. But this black metal supergroup do not espouse microbiological revelations so much as their poetry describes a post-apocalyptic Norway through the seasons and mourning in silence. It is a stoic piece that does not make cheap use of dark imagery outside of reality.
Although the use of the term ‘supergroup’ is entirely meaningless anymore a fan of Norwegian black metal will recognize the artists involved in Djevel past and present. Off to focus entirely on Kvelertak, vocalist Erlend Hjelvik leaves behind both Djevel and The Konsortium to rub sacs with Metallica, and rightfully so. Likewise original drummer Dirge Rep (Per Husebø) left to join The Konsortium on their incredible ‘Rogaland’ album that released earlier this year. Hjelvik‘s straightforward vocal style in Djevel was easily replaced by bassist Mannevond (Koldbrann), with Trond Ciekals (NettleCarrier, Ljå) continuing on clean vocals and guitars. So, how do they keep the ‘super’ in supergroup? Faust (Emperor, Blood Tsunami) joins on drums. I don’t mention all of these changes because I consider musicians any sort of celebrity, but rather because this shift in staffing changes some smaller aspects of Djevel‘s sound as they consolidate to a three piece.
If you’re unfamiliar with Djevel‘s sound I would suggest early Taake and Kampfar as references for their fairly typical modern Norwegian black metal style. Their earliest record ‘Dødssanger’ (2011) was dully repetitive and featured some irritating spoken word vocals that would factor less and less into their sound as they iterated. If you enjoy pre-‘Hordalands Doedskvad’ era Taake then ‘Besatt av maane og natt’ (2013) is likely a small gem for your collection. From there Djevel sought a different path as they explored atmospheric (but still very Norwegian) guitar work and folkish Myrkraverk-esque sounds on ‘Saa Raa Og Kald’ (2015). I wouldn’t go as far as to call it ‘norsecore’ but the drumming would certainly fit that general description. This is all in hindsight circa 2016 as I discovered the band on ‘Norske Ritualer’ (2016) due to Hoest (Taake) providing guest vocals on the third track.
‘Norske Ritualer’ was an opulent treatment of Nordic black metal with high production value, ringing acoustic interludes and world-burning hits of Norwegian black metal brutality. It was Djevel at the top of their synergy and creating what appeared to be their biggest and best moment with the original line-up. For a band who had never really hit it out of the park their fourth album was an atomic bomb that lived up to the odd ‘supergroup’ tag. If you’re prone to being reductive it was really just a more folksy version of ‘…Bjoergvin…’ but that isn’t intended as a slight at all. It’d be a hard album to follow up, especially with the project’s line-up rearranging.
If Djevel didn’t focus on such a touching theme and attach that cruel imagery to highly melodic guitar work ‘Blant Svarte Graner’ might not have been as successful as it is as a follow up to ‘Norske Ritualer’. With Ciekals stepping up as a world class artist at the helm for songwriting, lyrics, and guitar work the band’s fifth album coughs up a foggy gloom and resigns within it’s own cloud of pestilence. Every aspect of performance is professional and moving, from the aching basslines underneath the somber rhythm guitar work to the subtle drum fills; It is music of feeling and rarely expresses ego compared to previous works. Faust is quite a different style of drummer than Dirge Rep in that his use of the kit is less restrictive in terms of style and he isn’t mercilessly technical for the sake of it.
In creating music of mourning in the aftermath of impossible death through melodic Norwegian black metal Djevel have returned stronger and more self-actualized than previous. ‘Blant Svarte Graner’ would be no less moving were it recorded in a garage but, the rendering given by Ruben Willem (Okkultokrati, Rongeur) is immaculate as it provides the scraping creed of Norwegian black metal a professional, cinematic quality between Mannevond‘s undulating bass tone and Faust‘s dynamic, modern performance. The star to commend here is perhaps Ciekals for his grand conception, lyrical genius and brilliant guitar work as these are the elements that stick with me most.
Djevel‘s records have all landed around 45 minutes thus far with ‘Norske Ritualer’ testing that limit some. ‘Blant Svarte Graner’ does extend beyond the 50 minute mark due to intro tracks and the overly extended “Paa vintersti skal hun synge en gravsang som aldrig ender” at nearly 11 minutes long. This extended listen is the only thing that kept me from spinning the album on repeat as I’d end up skipping at least one of the two 10+ minute tracks beyond vital listens. In this sense I think folks who found ‘Dødssanger’ repetitive might possibly have the same issue with the longer arrangements of ‘Blant Svarte Graner’. I found a lot of value through several listens but it is the sort of record you put on once in a while rather than leave on repeat for half a day. For preview I would suggest “Det svartner paa likbleik hud” for it’s masterful use of melodic subtlety along with “Naa er hele livet paa ravnens bord” and “De danser rundt sopelimet som om den var deres mor” for their riffs.
|Released||March 23, 2018|
|Listen on Spotify||Follow Djevel on Facebook|
Dei liger under som minst förmå. 4.0/5.0
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