Five years might appear as a lifetime whilst living it in waiting, constantly on the verge of seeming eternity. At some point time spent at the door imagining the arrival of a departed beloved is merely a scar upon the soul, a hard mark upon the heart that serves as treacherous spiked carapace and rose-colored lens moving forth. A band is a creative project, though, and an amicable but very final end is no cause for crumpled mourning, right? Still, the cessation of Swedish progressive death metal band Morbus Chron somehow feels like a tragic, sudden death in restful sleep. Why though? As it turns out their second full-length album’s push beyond their Autopsy-esque rise to popularity was in fact a great bout of clairvoyance into the future of extreme metal that some listeners still cannot see or hear. The impact of ‘Sweven‘ (2014) is felt in every corner of extreme metal, from death/doom to technical thrash and countless black and death metal permutations since, that continues to inspire by way of the paradigm shift offered within its classic progressive rock influenced and elevated rhythms. It is the perfect underground legend for our times where the mainstream would largely ignore its impact until the next generation of journalists, musicians, and artists would have their say. I’d suggest that the finality of Morbus Chron‘s sudden exit might’ve felt dire at the time but the man behind that legend is yet a young and increasingly brilliant fellow who has left a trail of excellent choices since, each culminating in the realization of Sweven, his own project that was originally concieved as the third Morbus Chron record ~five years ago and now fully realized today as an indomitable spiritual successor, ‘The Eternal Resonance’.
That trail of excellent choices? Producing Stockholm death metal band Speglas‘ fine EP ‘Birth, Dreams & Death‘ (2015), two members of which now round up the line-up of Sweven. That EP was very much in the style of ‘Sweven’ and the main songwriter was live guitarist for Morbus Chron in their last year so, the fit appears natural on record. Robert Andersson‘s next step was production/vocals for Temisto, a remarkable blackened ‘progressive’ death metal band whose self-titled album would end up as my album of the year for 2016 despite not knowing who the involved personnel were. From there he’d join Entombed as live vocalist, culminating in a legendary performance of ‘Clandestine’ for the album’s 25th anniversary shows. Five years doesn’t feel like such a black hole with these events in mind and to receive a proper follow up to ‘Sweven’ is an unimaginable gift to receive for those of us who’ve worn our Morbus Chron t-shirts to ribbons and sought replacement LPs from Discogs for exorbitant amounts. Before you begin to glaze-over and beam into eternity at the thought of what ‘The Eternal Resonance’ might be, the question is, what exactly would a follow-up to ‘Sweven’ even sound like? One thing is for sure, that it took five years of insight to birth ‘Sweven’, and the five years since have pulled an even more remarkable record from Andersson‘s mind.
On my end the comparisons to the previous record cease beyond the thought that this is “more” on every count. More tact, more dynamic, more progressive, more personal, and thoroughly -more- than just ‘progressive death metal’ with a post-music and a spaced-out 70’s progressive rock lilt. The layers are there, the swinging King Crimsonian plow through Andersson‘s viscous ocean of swaying movements is exactly what any fan would want Sweven to be as a more ‘mature’ and meaningful vision. ‘The Eternal Resonance’ is triumph enough for delivering as a follow-up to ‘Sweven’ and this will be enough for anyone who’d loved that record in the years since, wanting more. Full-stop, this is exactly the thing we fans have been crossing fingers for since 2015. But what continues to cross my mind as I’ve spent a full month listening to the record one, two, sometimes four or five times every day since receiving it, is the nagging sense that it needs to be said — As a devout pusher for ‘Sweven’ since it released, this is actually a ‘better’, more completely realized record in every sense. I say this despite always wanting Morbus Chron‘s sound to go a bit more death metal yet I am marveling at the intoxicating spiral of celestial progressive metal that Sweven bears, curling into its own increasingly distinctive direction with each spin.
Reading Andersson‘s thoughts on ‘The Eternal Resonance’ there is the sense that he’d been sitting with these ideas stewing, updating them and pining over the details which’d all been writ and envisioned long ago. It is a piece of the past still held in heart that needs to be pushed out, heard and seized by the public so that it would not possess the artist any longer. That isn’t to say that it has been carelessly rendered, in fact production values on ‘The Eternal Resonance’ offer the organic verve of ‘Sweven’ while stepping outside of the previous project’s old school death metal cave and into a living-but-deathly progressive metal space, minus unnecessary glossiness or any maddeningly artificial layers. Each hand in the rendering process feels considered without any rush desperation. The enormous drum sound via Rasmus Booberg (New Keepers of the Water Towers) enhances Jesper Nyrelius‘ impressive performance far beyond expectations and perhaps even more important, the expertise of David Castillo (Ghost Ward/Fascination Street) for the guitar recordings helps to pull ‘The Eternal Resonance’ away from the muddy death of its predecessor and into Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna/Redmount Studios) masterful hands for emphasis. I know many folks don’t necessarily care about the names and reputations behind sound engineering and production but in this case all of these choices help to build ‘The Eternal Resonance’ into a mountainous hour-long progressive, atmospheric psych-death metal record and a remarkably considered journey to behold.
‘Sweven’ felt like a progressive/psychedelic rock record written whilst trying to see the path beyond ‘old school’ progressive death metal conventions, it’d been such a shock to the system because ‘A Saunter Through the Shroud’ appeared to be building up towards some measure of 90’s Death‘s ‘jammed’ movements and ‘Soulside Journey’-esque atmospheric values. The joy of that record came with the sense that it was a spark of inspiration that didn’t quite fit, seeming far too unreal as it unfurled; Yet every piece of it fit together into one impressive stream of consciousness that yielded memorable and inspiring works, a classic in my mind at least. ‘The Eternal Resonance’ feels as if it were a great step beyond, a distanced leap from conceptual demo and inspired rant towards a masterful realization of ideas that were just too big for a retro death metal band like Morbus Chron, as goddamned cool as they were!
Effects-soaked guitars hum-and-drang without distortion as the main driver, frothy and tenebrous all the same as Andersson‘s even more potent vocal range generally sticks within his howling Reifert-esque style but bends more capably in every direction. The smallest detail holds its own world of meaning within each of these 7-10 minute songs, such as the shuddering vibrato of Andersson‘s vocal refrains on “By Virtue of a Promise”, undoubtedly set as the first song beyond the introduction of “The Spark” for good reason. It is an opus unto itself, building a grand entrance out of simple movements and instantly invoking the psychedelic wandering spirit of ‘Sweven’. At nearly ten minutes it will be a meaningful indoctrination, more than a hint that ‘The Eternal Resonance’ will not only be grand and masterfully dynamic by emotionally taxing for those who’d readily invest themselves into its extensively detailed trip.
Pianos, chimes, bells, and all manner of embellishments take the lead within peaking moments of several of the extended pieces that make up ‘The Eternal Resonance’. This speaks to 70’s progressive rock in quite a different manner than say, a present day Opeth record might, taking all of the shimmer and twanging bluster of auld melodramatic rock and setting it to Andersson‘s retro-futuristic ear for psychedelic metal. Notes taken from Floyd, Crimson, and perhaps even Yes all roll in as structural pieces of the artist’s panopticon-filling vision. You could certainly put on a track like “Mycelia” over on Side A2 and feel like you’ve gotten the gist of the journey thus far but you’d have missed the too-furious pouring of the self that’d built up to its piano-stamping twist n’ grinding psych-death jog. No one sample from the album communicates the daunting momentum built within — From the first listen I’d looked down at the tracklist and felt like I’d spent a lifetime just getting to the conclusion of fourth track, and I mean that in the best way possible. The tracklist is versatile to some degree, you could play the second LP before the first and have a comparable experience, but I’d felt far more flattened when struck by the intended order of the full listen. The mind-bending finale of “Visceral Blight” straight into “Sanctum Sanctorum” is the sledge that’d strike through me, a combination that’d reinforce those years I’d spent spinning ‘Sweven’ through good times and bad wondering where it’d have gone next, and delivering music with doubled extremes that reach far beyond anything imagined.
As a fan the last thing I’d like is the theme of such a detailed ‘book’ of a record summed up in a few sentences, I’ll pull what I’d like from the lyric sheet if one comes with the double LP and let it be my own chest-clutched curio. I’d at least posit the theme is an extension of ‘Sweven’ but set outside of time, something equally metaphysical but easing upon morbidity towards a greater continuum. There continues to ring between my ears the sense that even a full month hasn’t been enough time to extrapolate and arrange the sheer amount of detail within Sweven‘s debut, much less the emotional significance of the experience. The baggage of it being a spiritual extension of Morbus Chron‘s swan song was a fair deal to process and perhaps more of a personal sentiment that I could skip over for the sake of some feigned attempt at brevity. Considering ‘The Eternal Resonance’ in more practical terms, it is a record I’ll be listening to for as long as its vinyl won’t crumble and I will hold it to task to be there as I age with it just as ‘Sweven’ has been this last half-decade. Per my own bias this is the best record I’ve heard in years, satisfying dormant nostalgia as much as it bridges new paths forward, opens unto new possibilities. A highest possible recommendation from me, and it’ll unquestionably be the one to beat this year.
Highest recommendation. 5.0/5.0
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