STORTREGN – Impermanence (2021)REVIEW

With the highest respect, I except the name of Heraclitus. When the rest of the philosophic folk rejected the testimony of the senses because they showed multiplicity and change, he rejected their testimony because they showed things as if they had permanence and unity. Heraclitus too did the senses an injustice […] But Heraclitus will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Idle Hours of a Psychologist

The sense that a career in the commercial arts should convey a pursuit of ever-changing personal ideals and/or tastes pressures the creative into a mode which insists upon constant and precarious maladaptation. Ye auld diaphora of heavy rock standardization which extreme metal yet yanks its core differentiation from remains nigh impossibly escapable for the practical and… relatively damning for the ambitiously performative artist; What we see most often beyond a certain point of maturity for self-actualized musicians is a rebellious collapse of structure beyond novel admixtures of learned traits yet what “sells” are aesthetics, traits and “moments” in general due to a loss of storied personae within the greater societal appreciation for artistry. What we see as “competition” amongst technical aptitude and salable forms of extreme metal is in fact a pile of petrified corpses seeking to attain just enough of an readable “progression” that could possibly keep up with thier craft via regularly cycled products without a consumer-boggling sense of adiaphora tied to their name. Some artists reject a sub-genre tied reputation, inevitably flailing about after becoming defined by trend or insincere experimentation, and others find a reasonable stride forth without any certain velocity between points, blurring their destination for the sake of enjoying a grand view along the way. I wouldn’t entirely suggest that Geneva, Switzerland-based quintet Stortregn exist without a logically divinable self-identity but that their willingness to half-shift the greater paradigm of each successive record offers an appreciable balance between classicism, neo-futurism, and an infinitely branching waterway of potential growth. Their fifth full-length album, ‘Impermanence‘, divulges its marvel upon the reality of change as a constant yet still holds alight a lifelong appreciation for the classics of Scandinavian extreme metal melodicism. The result is some greater mastery of the ties between modern progressive melodic death metal, technical death/thrash metal, and classic melodic black/death metal.

Formed in 2006 as an outlet for a shared interest in the greater melodic black/death metal anomaly via guitarists Roman Negro and Johan Smith, Stortregn would take full advantage of their formative years in holding off on a full-length release until they were entirely ready. It appears this involved cycling through several drummers, briefly employing a keyboardist, and finally landing upon a modern yet riff heavy melodic black/death sound on ‘Uncreation‘ (2011) and this album still serves as a sort of early statement of intent and skill for the band as you’ll hear the composer’s voice there as a distantly building echo of what ‘Impermanence’ sustains. A knack for dramatic tension, periods of restful build and tiered advances of pace made for some readied comparisons with the Dissection-esque realm of melodic black/death metal, I would suggest something closer to Eucharist‘s ‘Mirrorworlds’ or the first Sins of Omission record minus all the shredding. For the sake of accuracy, sure this is a sage angle to view their stylistic development from but perhaps only if you’ve some disdain or ignorance of what Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum did to sustain the dignity of melodic death metal in the last two decades via expansive atmospheric production and progressive musicianship. The riff attack is yet generally classic in advance from that point on, their recently reissued second album (‘Evocation of Light‘, 2013) directly paired a simpler thrashing vision of old Svensk ways with the new guard whilst showcasing their solidifying line-up with the addition of drummer Samuel Jakubec. This marked a point of precision that sustains today. I’d already parsed out the band’s progression somewhat flippantly in my review of their fourth album but it warrants another pass for the sake of identifying the point of readiness versus the point where the composer begins to repeatedly push beyond an already high-achieved standard. With ‘Singularity‘ (2016) and ‘Emptiness Fills the Void‘ (2018) a love for technical thrash metal, Swedish death/thrash, and progressive death metal becomes a bit more apparent as the rhythm guitar performance shifts to a new member and Negro focuses on vocals. At this point it seems their growth alongside producer/engineer Vladimir Cochet (Mirrorthrone) enabled the band to find a sound that retains their intent but remains moldable to a tightened tech-death apropos shape. The rough edges were still showing and the throughway of the full listen was a bit scattered but that fourth album was nonetheless a breakthrough moment for Stortregn.

‘Impermanence’ fits into this narrative as a fresh portal, a deepest breath beyond the muster of reflection and a bit of a transcendence past the need for absolute density of composition. Is it a full-bore paradigm shift? Well, a half-shift if we directly compare it with the events of 2018 but the Stortregn we encounter here embraces an “epic” progressive status as well as impressive technical aggression just enough to justify the jump to The Artisan Era, a font of cutting edge musicianship via progressive/technical extreme metal. We can shirk these notions of the ‘old school’ at this point beyond the connective tissue and dramatics of mid-to-late 90’s melodic black/death metal, I’ve already seen a buzz of “Opeth meets Dissection” discussion and I’d like to stamp that surface-level nonsense out because it hardly reaches what scant demographic that combination still excites with any tangible meaning. What should easily thrill a broader audience is this sense of modern melodic death metal that avoids any lineage of metalcore inherent to the mid-2000’s and instead focuses on expanding what progressive/atmospheric reign that era of melodic death metal entailed — The stuff that actual fans of melodic death metal like, not a bridge into “real” metal beyond The Black Dahlia Murder-core discovery. This is a bloated way to suggest that folks looking for technical/melodic death metal with some reverence for classic melo-black/death riffing will find a wellspring within Stortregn‘s latest. They push this feat of honorable niche a bit further than I’d expected in the ~45 minute span of the record, sparking up bits of ‘Terminal Redux’-era Vektor on the deeper cuts ‘Impermanence’ has to offer, such as “Multilayered Chaos“. The balance of sub-genre traits is apt enough that we’d make those distinctions for the sake of recognizing what is familiar yet I wouldn’t walk away from the experience having the nostalgic center of my brain stroked unmercifully.

Instead of dirtying the pickle jar with my musing of the fineries of each track I’d rather speak to some appreciation for a well-communicated goal met in terms of ‘Impermanence’. There is some obviate mastery here in creation of this ‘epic’ melodic yet somehow technical death metal stylistic act yet there is no rarity in reaching this goal on paper; The major achievement here lies within substantive, brain-worming songcraft as they wield fifteen years of well developed oeuvre into knowable form while still featuring impressive performances. Gone is the dry tech-death snap of the double-bass heavy drumming on ‘Emptiness Fills the Void’ and instead we’ve gotten a real sense of movement from a fuller stomp. By focusing on drum sound and then performance we find the bones of ‘Impermanence’ architecture are well evolved past the Dark Tranquillity ‘The Gallery’ school of percussion and capable of quite intense blast-modulation yet the effect is not too dissimilar when we consider the progressive elements available to melodic death metal even in 1995. As the last third of “Cosmos Eater” chills beneath its spoken word section we can observe even the most calmed moments of the record entail some serious aptitude on display but they are generally for the sake of the songs resonance, in this case maintaining the focus upon a moody point of release. This is just one example of the sort of maturity a band -should- convey well into their fifth album. As this piece segues into a brief instrumental (“Impermanence”) to precede Side B we’ve already seen a level of skill beyond that of any 90’s heroism from all musicians involved but also a level of consideration for the holistic experience of the listener that is far beyond the scope of the past.

The sum considered, evaluated, arranged for effect and somewhat narrative in purpose is where we can find the great leap forward for Stortregn, even beyond consideration for the jazzy breaks of “Grand Nexion Abyss” and the increasingly frequent use of classical guitar for effect. Effect and perceived substance within songcraft might be a difficult consideration within such a stylistic vacuum of forms (and several sub-genre lineages in tow) but lead driven melodic death metal statements are the major ten percent of what information you’ll pull from an induction of ‘Impermanence’ and this will grow in value as the heavily flourished nature of these statements becomes more familiar. Gaining the greater patternation in mind and sitting in appreciation of their performance is still the major draw of the experience, the details are as fine as the musical statements themselves. This lands upon an ideal crossover between the “technical” and the “melodic” in terms of this form of death metal without breaching a too-personal emotional barrier, all actions are tasteful yet still appreciably extreme. Speaking of taste, I suppose few bands have had such a sweet tour of extreme metal’s fine artists as Stortregn thus far, adding this considerable work from Paolo Girardi to their discography, which has just a slight thematic echo of Kristian Wahlain‘s sky vortex on ‘Evocation of Light’ but also a characteristically morbid envision of the void-swallow notable in his own body of work. Sitting with ‘Impermanence’ and soaking in its ambitious greater statement has been entirely redeeming, a moderately challenging pool of performative stylistic radiance and certainly a sensical thread of ornate songwriting to follow in the grand tradition of melodic extreme metal. It is a record that reads as a “modern” yet never dissociative extension of their own sharp taste, an identity unwilling to wither in a rut, and in this sense it continues to impress with each return to its notable graces. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):The Artisan Era
RELEASE DATE:March 12th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Technical Melodic Death Metal,
Melodic Black/Death Metal

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