BHLEG – Fäghring (2022)REVIEW

Set within four elementally fixated climes the grand conclusion of south-western Swedish atmospheric black/folk metal duo Bhleg‘s tetralogy in exposition of the knowledge of the cosmos arrives with an mythopoetic implication of cyclic rejuvenation, a rebirth beyond the endtyme doom long envisioned by way of astrally-set consciousness and dream-stated prophecy. ‘Fäghring‘ is characteristically effortless in its longform movements despite the inherent stridency of its many living-and-breathing parts, resuscitating themselves bound to a certain atmospheric sub-genre tide yet pushing a freshened, unbound spiritual narrative. Though we are meant to feel the mossy accoutrement available in bits of birch bark, river stones and handmade hide-taut drum textures, these fellowes lay their most profound ideas to tape by way of a distinctly Scandinavian blackened folken voice aimed at invoking the solar rays of a new dawn.

Intending a divine purposed expression of life’s essence and origin the spark of life experience has been intentionally ‘grained into all of Bhleg‘s work to date with these rural-set Västra Götaland natives consisting of musician S. and vocalist L., both having transitioned towards this most spiritually guided project beyond their involvement in Gothenburg presented sombre black metal/dark folk act Ljuset circa 2013, later adding drummer H. to their commune. From there I’ve already given detailed nods to their past works in reviews of their 2019 EP ‘Äril‘ and brilliant third full-length (‘Ödhin‘, 2021) without necessarily understanding the larger arc of their work up to that point, the implication being that ‘Solarmegin‘ (2018) was such an undertaking that they’d broken down their process into more decisive, high impact statements and that’d meant burning themselves alive, bringing great focus into what I’d considered their finest moment in ‘Ödhin‘. A most distinct voice had arisen in the winter sessions of that record and now an entirely different angle arrives in the Spring thaw of ‘Fäghring‘, where their modus is yet in awe of the primordial statements of ‘Bergtatt‘ and ‘Nattens Madrigal‘ but even less fixated, their own well-developed voice continues to speak loudest beyond structural influences herein.

The great serpentine rebirth, a circular view of jaws clamping upon tail ‘Fäghring‘ trots in with the grace of forest folk’s finest as field recordings and percussive whittle give way to an decidedly gallant heavy metallic opener in the charging, yearning roll of “Vårdträdet”. This’d been an energizing return for me, having appreciated Bhleg‘s sound as well-aimed towards naturalist folk metallic atmospherics yet able to cut quite hard into heavier black metal stirs without fear of dropping a nuke too intense for the new age/religious crowd looking to sustain their chill. The bursting through felt as “Grönskande Gryning” breaks into song, choraled and spread-armed in gather of the entire lung’s register, provides strong inspiration to start while also implying that the divisions set between one track to another will be arbitrary to some degree, as the first two pieces here are seamlessly woven in their handshake. That opening chorus eventually repeats within the nearly eleven minute piece and cements quite a strong juxtaposition of verve, atmospheric loft and general compositional approach compared to most of ‘Ödhin‘, a same-but-different lilt which appears restored in Bhleg‘s sound which certainly feels like an exit from the huddle of winter when the two records are played back to back. The first third of the album arguably makes as strong a mark as an opening salvo should, presenting a high standard for what is to come.

“Alyr i Blom” and “Befruktad Jord” are the internalized war of the full listen, the riffing and soldiering middle third which bears the most intently black-metallic focus of ‘Fäghring‘. The ‘epic’ sized approach of the album’s major pieces continues to develop its ranting folk-melodic voice on its inner walls with “Alyr i Blom” bearing a sort of proggy Fluisteraars or, Wodensthrone-esque elevation of motion to its extended rhythmic phrases which otherwise ring and drone with a more traditional black metal technique amidst callous, harshest vocals. “Befruktad Jord” appears to be the intended weighty reveal at the middle of the experience as it grinds at its black metal core in reveal of choral vocals risen in subtle gesture ’til ~four minutes or nearby the halfway point brings the most evocative and important moment on the album for my own taste as their command of clean vocal in impressive choral layers directs a simple chord progression unto perhaps the most Bathory-esque moment of the full listen before grinding back into the burl of black metal they’d presented. Of course I am describing what is the major experiential ‘hook’ of a record like ‘Bergtatt‘ in essence but I’ve not heard a finer example of this style in quite a few years. A huge, album-making moment for my own taste.

The herding call of traditional Swedish folk vocalizations, or, kulning featured on “Solvid” amidst guest vocalist Êlea‘s (Noêta) calming contributions mulls amidst the twittering of spring birds and (Sámi?) drum hits as this piece moonlights as an Nordic neofolk piece and meditative introduction to the final black metal ‘epic’ of the full listen, the imposing roar and rattling aggression of “Frö”. Though these longer pieces are meant to be key events the majesty of this particular piece is finalized, or, almost outshined with a hollering, keening vocal lasting roughly two minutes, a moment which’d stolen the impactful bluster of the song’s natural endpoint, tuning my focus toward a sorrowful and mad vocal tradition which I’m not familiar with. The effect is wild and unexpected to say the least, interruptive to some degree yet memorable nonetheless. This experimentation with vocalization notably brings valuable variety, some unique moments to ‘Fäghring‘ which offer reasonable trade for occasionally stealing the spotlight from its heavier black metal pieces. From there “Fagna sumrí” seems to invert the beats of “Solvid” with different chorales, a gentle enough ~four minute fade away. I’d found myself most intently focused on these three final pieces to some inordinate degree to start, it being an droning final event which does a fine enough job of cementing the implication of rebirth found within the album’s greater theme and invocation.

A great success of an uniquely atmospheric black/folk metal record from a band already well-regarded for their ingenious approach to an otherwise well-worn traditional artform, ‘Fäghring‘ is conceptually vital as a piece of Bhleg‘s entity as a whole which speaks to their past, present and future sounds having a place in an admirably holistic ‘bigger picture’ presentation. Beyond it being one of if not their finest work to date it is also, bluntly put, a fine and beauteous black metal record. It listens quite well on repeat despite the extended dramatism of its final third and held up well to my tendency to overplay and exhaust records of their spiritual worth. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (84/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Nordvis Produktion
RELEASE DATE:April 1st, 2022

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