BHLEG – Ödhin (2021)REVIEW

Hoary is the eldest cataract in the eye of those collectively seeking the nature of the Fates (or, the Norns) who find themselves repeatedly bumping headfirst into students intent on disemboweling themselves with the milquetoast Christian application of determinism to this idea of wyrd. The allegorical scene found in the Fafnismol appears to speak most often and most clearly to relying on one’s true nature, seeking control of only what is reasonably exorable as human will, setting death aside (or, accepting mortality) as the inexorable meaning of “fate.” Rowing upriver against this great wind of inevitable death is far less a poignant or, far more of a futile act when seen through eyes of those that’re prone to long bouts of extreme focus: Meditatives, creative types, and perhaps in the case of Swedish black/folk metal duo Bhleg, those prone to spiritual sight where others might see the mundanity of existence are the enlightened for their connection to the moment rather than what’d come next. Their third album ‘Ödhin’ concerns itself with the wintry duality of nature, a beauteous and bone-chilling murderess when farthest from the sun, celebrated through intensely focused collaboration where their spontaneous tunnel-vision is a generative virtue that’d eventually give way to an ice-clad pillar sized feat for their already impressive discography.

Presented with ease and their own relative sense of simplicity, Bhleg‘s discography begins to shape itself as a thread of contemplative naturalistic prose fashioned as such by virtue of of living in a mindset of “rural belonging” for the entirety of their lives. This still young duo appear oaken and wisened in practice as they present increasingly skilled efficiencies that feature more personal spiritual release with each set of focused compositions. ‘Ödhin’ is their (they being musicians S. and L.) fourth major release since forming in 2013 assumedly after S.‘s ambitious, forward-thinking blackened depressive rock/folk metal exploration Ljuset had more or less dissolved; What we can glean from the past is a youthful fearlessness alongside an appreciation for stirring connection with the listener — What we find in this future self is no less interested in cultivating an emotional connection but refocuses efforts toward an “epic” poetic appreciation of the natural world and mankind’s place within it. How far they’ve come with this medium is a matter requiring the perspective of the whole discography, yet I’ll lean on personal experience for the time being — My first exposure to Bhleg came from a random tip via e-mail back in April of 2018, an acquaintance’s late mention of their impressive second album, ‘Solarmegin‘, which’d eventually prove a daunting yet meditative double LP that’d reminded me of the current visionary atmospheric black metal in the Netherlands but, serrated and black/folk metal driven from a naturalistic Swedish perspective. I’d experience it in hindsight after enjoying their split with Nechochwen. This’d hint at the minimal-yet-melodic approach found on ‘Äril‘ (2019) EP, a good place to start as it’d been a window into their prepared yet never overthought approach to recording. It’d been my first chance to write a bit about the project yet the bigger picture only just fully arrives with ‘Ödhin’, where it becomes clear these two fellowes benefit from a mixture of spiritual preparation and instinct when composing.

What exactly does all of this contextual thinking bring us in revelation of this third Bhleg album? Well, I suppose nothing that I couldn’t have simply invoked via mention of ‘Bergtatt’ or any nearby Scandinavian black/folk metal classic. The longer, most impactful “epics” that’d sparked up the greatest highs on ‘Solarmegin’ are here but the tracklist is slimmed of excess otherwise, driving forward at a mid-pace whilst developing somber-resonant atmosphere via their most “clean” production to date. The rhythm guitars float their crisped harass a few feet higher in the distance, letting the waveform float its grind to a spot that never allows the feeling of amateurish compression nor “thinness” to obfuscate their oft commanding charge (see: “Ödet”). The duo suggest they’ve ordered these pieces as they were created, letting all things fall naturally into compositional order in the span of about two weeks. This did not reveal itself as any sort of ideal modus ’til I’d had time to consider each piece individually since I doubt I’m alone in this feeling that ‘Ödhin’ is a graceful, pretty album that is immediately daunting for its duo of ~9 minute ‘epic’ black/folk metal pieces up front. “Vyss” is a spike of quite classic harsh atmospheric black metal made beautiful as it unfolds, a tribal snarl that becomes a sprawling epic as it leads into the final few minutes. “Alyr III” is the third in a line of equally grand-sized pieces in tribute to the ancient section of Sweden’s western coastal area, Västra Götaland, which they’ve long inhabited and bonded in appreciation of. This is perhaps a more typical invocation of Ulver which my ear had been straining to find. The main melodic arc of this piece is brutally simple and drones on with purpose before it becomes a melty, choral bloom in the last third of the piece. Again, those first eighteen minutes are crucial enough that it might serve listeners well to simply leave them on repeat for a while, mulling over their detailed melodic implications and cranking the volume a bit to get the smaller details. The running order then provides a natural barrier in the form of a five minute ambient piece, a bit of ethereal Lustre-esque warmth (er, forest synth?) to enhance the mood and full pull away from the major statement of “Alyr III”. This naturally provides an end to Side A.

Side B begins by immediately striking into melodic black metal riffing, horns blaring and all cylinders revolving as the ten minute apex of “Slukad sol” unveils the core resonance of the listen via the stunning clean-sung mountainous peak of the song’s mid-section. This is a reasonable point to be “sold” on the album, a distinct high beyond Side A that strikes away from the meditative swaying of prior pieces into a considerably well-sustained moment. Yes, these are simple ideas made grand and the rhythm guitar work centers around motif central to this album’s place in Bhleg‘s discography but as we wheel through the climax of the aforementioned “Ödet” the appropriate (or, intended) dent ‘Ödhin’ leaves matches this pretty-yet-merciless goal in representation of Scandinavian winter. I’d particularly appreciated that this second pairing of tracks achieves this peak of the full listen without too heavy reliance on jaunty clichés of black/folk metal music, never diving into jigs or too-typical Norse folk rock movements. So, if we can essentially overlook the five minute drang of the lyre that ends the album we can begin to reflect.

Does ‘Ödhin’ focus too intently upon sustaining the moment in creation of “epic” textural black/folk metal music? Would greater variety of mood be too jarring? In terms of generating an evocative experience that maintains the spirit of Bhleg, this album is a reasonable enough success that’d soon melt away my initial “daunted” impression. The full listen isn’t as much of a snow-shoed trek as it’d seem if you breathe along with each step. Their use of indigenous or crafted instrumentation, which is largely percussive, is justified even if it only provides a gilding upon already characteristic movements; I think it’d be fair to say the rhythm guitar work here redeems some past criticisms of the “riffs” being perfunctory on earlier Bhleg records by virtue of it being the most developed voice (beyond the actual vocals) here. Focused? Yes, but to great effect as the full listen is reheated to its naturally droning ascent several times. I’m not sure if I can convey the difference between a “cheap” unfeeling invocation of black/folk (or, pagan black) metal and this sort of tunnel envisioned thread of personal craft but in this case a full listen will at least reveal the value of being in the midst of its focus. If we pull out to the widest angle the somewhat impromptu nature of the composition and recording process is impressive even if the running order doesn’t justify being split into these two halves specifically, I see the pros and cons of the tracklist succeeding despite the overload that Side A introduces itself with. A moot point if we aren’t considering accessibility, of course. For my own taste it is yet the most measured, complete statement from Bhleg to date, a seasonally appropriate journey just long enough to feel experiential without the threat of the mind’s larder emptying of its patience. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Nordvis Produktion
RELEASE DATE:January 15th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal,
Black/Folk Metal

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