The ascetic asleep beneath the stars — Without womb or hovel to provide a third or fourth layer of skin so clicks alight man’s nervous, sleepless nature. One ear to prick at the snap of creeping toes and claws upon twigs, listening intently beyond the saw-like biting of beetles nighttime milling. The screaming violinist’s mating ritual snaps our startled eye open, again, to frantically watch the shadows for the stalker’s own desperate pangs of moonlit strive for we sleeping sacks of meat and blood. What does hearth, haven, and the warmth of security mean to those accustomed and thrilled by the leanness of the wild? Highly intelligent primates no longer have a meaningful place in the woods at night, mutating within this bubble of alien dominance for too long without the stalking beast to spurn on any further cleverness. In limbo between the inherent Samadhi of survival and sacred serenity of place lies man’s contorted, irrational truth. Värmland, Sweden-based black metal quartet Svederna posit ‘Härd’ (or, literally “hearth”) via their own interpretation as a great fiery clarifier, an imagined furnace to discern what is false, unreal, and unnatural. What truth they seek and what is meant to be burnt away by the fuming, gust-borne west-central Swedish black metal band’s third full-length album is a trip to be had and sussed by an inquisitive and engaged listener willing to pour over this vital retro-modernism with a gusto to match their own.

Despite having been familiar with the anti-establishment curse n’ roll of Svederna for some years now, and having reviewed their well-received second record ‘Svedjeland‘ back in 2018, it still came as somewhat of a surprise that ‘Härd’ felt immediately confrontational. Howling, riffing, and ranting with their folkish and abrupt sense of melody from the very first piling of notes upon shouts it’d still be fair to loosely compare what these guys do with the slightly less folkish side of later 2000’s Taake, exuberant labelmates Grá, and the later era of Arckanum in the 2010’s where elements of classic Swedish black metal fluidity and experiments with rock and folk taste reached a certain paramount. If the clangorous grandeur and almost whimsical slice of ‘Svedjeland’ left you wanting more of the same then I’d suggest you’re getting Svederna evolved far beyond those 2015 (but released in 2018) recordings. Recorded rather quickly (~a week) for the sake of capturing the moment as pristine and realistic as possible, the goal of “urgency and vitality” is surely met with the highly professional but still earthen production values of ‘Härd’. Yet it is the performances themselves which impress, with all of the quartet managing to match one-another’s face-slapping and blaring energy for what is arguably the least subtly communicated yet by fair most detailed Svederna recording to date.

As is the case with their suggested influences ‘Härd’ is very much a black metal guitar album in essence and no doubt due to the record featuring three guitarists since they’ve added a fourth official member in Simon Karlin on bass. With the arrangements shared between three members it becomes clear that the common language in early construction of each song is not only the riff but the chord progression and its potential modulation in their 5-6 minute heavy metal song format. It certainly isn’t black n’ roll or blackened heavy metal to any particular degree but this third writing voice does begin to smack of Tulus or Loits to some degree beyond Svederna‘s penchant for Taake-esque folk rock songwriting. (see: first single “Tempelhärd”) If any of this begins to sound somewhat floaty and wistful via my description it isn’t intentional because despite the folk-tinge and melodic nature of ‘Härd’ it is yet a face-hugging black metal confrontation all the same. Yes, there are some prettier and more successfully melodic moments along the way but you’ll have to try and look past the constant rasping screams, shouts and degrading snarls of vocalist J. Holmberg to begin to find depth in the layers of the ever-evolving arrangements within.

Thrash breaks (“Urkvedsljuset”), apocalyptic sing-alongs, warnings of the imminent decimation of the natural world and all manner of poetic railing against despotic rule over a crowded and unenlightened populace finds Svederna still very much representing not only themselves but the best version of their ‘self’ as a unit to date. Rooted in arguments for need, nay necessity, for humanity to return to a harder working, soil-connected way of life the lyrics are occasionally more compelling than even the riffs, well… At least on the first half of the album where songs like “Folkets Blod” and “Niðr” dig beneath the skin of religion for the symptom of what ails all men, common threads for pagan and 90’s black metal in particular but delivered with a bit more class. Side B is an off-the-hook killing spree in terms of riffs where “Tempelhärd” and the four pieces that follow offer some of the finest material Svederna have recorded to date, appropriately showing five years worth of maturation beyond the previous record. The genius whip of “Förtigen” is not lost on me but a few of Side A‘s exasperated vocal performances don’t inspire any certain thrill on my end, especially the fairly dry “Skuld Och Vita Knogar”.

There are undoubtedly standouts and otherwise average moments along the way but for a ~48 minute third album from a still-evolving band the composure maintained through out ‘Härd’ is admirable and now even more refined than any past work. The noisome and up-front nature of the performances force attention and confrontation more than they inspire attention to the nuances of the full listen and this makes Svederna‘s latest a “grower” almost by design where the major hooks will be obviate to start but much of the black metal guitar joy that this album has to offer comes via focus on the back-half rhythms above all else. Without question one of the better black metal releases of the month and a grand payoff for all of the work that must’ve gone into this long in development production. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Carnal Records
RELEASE DATE:August 28th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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