JORDFÄST – Av Stoft (2022)REVIEW

Remain indifferent the self-inflicted suffering of mankind, an existence no less a building and receding detritus than the soil itself and no less dictated by the laws of nature. Sentience, a form of unnatural suffering at the aged peak of biological adaptation, persists as a terrible symptom of ever-skittering parasites upon the lonely crust of it all, rats in the heaping rot without roots to contribute in solidarity. In attempt to reconnect with the soil, set deeper footing and stave the nauseous, dizzied suffering of societal illness the bardic tradition upheld by Skåne, Sweden based folken black metal duo Jordfäst returns with character, scene, setting in service to allegorical balladry wherein the tragedian reality of nature leaves us with no silver lining needed, only our very temporary place in the continuum affirmed. ‘Av Stoft‘ returns to dust the notion of the mystic, the cleansers of reality who persist for the sake of false hope, no deus ex machina comes as our doomed protagonists simply crumble beneath the wheel in dark and potently real imagery.

Formed in 2017 assumedly as a duo, Jordfäst features a pair of friends who’ve known each other since at least 2008 or so, having played in a short lived melodeath project together before mult-instrumental talent Elis Edin Markskog left that project for well-known grindcore bands The Arson Project and soon after Birdflesh, whereas vocalist/lyricist Olof‘s main career path was in wildlife biology from that point. These all seem like odd connections to make in mind ’til we consider very relevant associations with Skogen (we’ve even got a guest vocal from Joakim Svensson on this new record) and some deeper grindcore-relevant staff in terms of session drums from Joakim Unger (Järnbörd, Cursus Bellum) and rendering from William Blackmon (The Overlook studio). This is of course just a bit of trivia up front which I find interesting, it probably doesn’t set the tone beyond appreciation for the contrast of mood and purpose between these two worlds, wherein the folken ‘epic’ black metal balladry of Jordfäst would never obviously associate otherwise. It wasn’t until 2020 that the duo would finish and shop their debut to labels, seeming to have little trouble in finding the exact right placement.

A melancholic naturalist opus arisen somewhat out of the blue, ‘Hädanefter‘ (2021) was a record I’d enjoyed quite a bit, but only covered in brief review commenting: “[…] is perhaps too introverted in nature to fully convey the deeper philosophical and conceptual tides that await folks looking to delve into their meaning. More clearly put, ‘Hädanefter’ sounds exactly in place [read: secure in identity] where it stands yet it will be a bit of a nut to crack into, almost specifically in tune with this expectation of the listener’s investigation rather than direct conveyance.” and what I meant by this is that the band had put so much thought into their lyrics, these deep and beautifully written tragedian ballads, that they’d almost been crafted with the assumption of familiarity rather than presented in an open-armed approach. It is a tough point to make on my part, since I was not suggesting change was necessary but appreciating the intimacy of the artists perspective, something naturally “based” and less performative than it’d seem. At that point we’d gotten the template of the idea in mind and a brilliant yet easily overlooked debut from the band, they’d asked quite a bit of a new listener within those first two LP-side length songs and it was inevitable that theirs was the sort of modus that’d appreciate in mind over time and iteration alike.

We find an exactly similar approach taken on album number two, wherein two ~16 minute songs are presented as side-length ballads intending readable and affecting parables set in a more ancient era of Scandinavian history when religion had the upper hand in shaping the fates of individuals and society had the “god given” pressure to force outliers away from themselves, or down self-destructive pathways. This sounds a bit roundabout on my part though there is no intended subtext, it is merely the case made for the truth of the individual when pitted against societal and religious normalization. Though the nuances of the Swedish language are not available to me the suggestion that these are tragic tales, tragic plots that instill no false hope or hero in their harsh realism for the sake of reflecting the natural world. It is a different subject and tone than you’ll get from otherwise similar projects, such as Skogen or Murg, nearby sonic semblances found in more rock-oriented Norwegian and British equivalents with a post-Ulver broadened sense. Jordfäst present the naturally tragic order of things in cold, uncalculated view rather than a state of romanticist awe, and despite their well-thought narrative prose in presentation.

We start with an abortion. “Abortologen” tells the story of a young woman who is raped by a Christian minister who eventually forces her to get an abortion in secret, this ends up being the cause of her death and an event which the preacher could wipe his hands cleanly of. The description of this song paints the one performing the abortion as the beneficiary of this treachery as well, making sure the child is presented as surrounded by wolves in a sense. My interpretation, anyhow. We can assume a certain stark-minded darkness to these events, unglorified in keeping with the lyrics for the previous album which were decidedly less personal and more metaphysical/philosophic in affect. While the lyrics and the general theme of this song were stunning to say the least perhaps not as much as the sort of black-thrashing riffs which greet the listener beyond the ~1:20 minute introduction to the song, quickly pulling my ear and interest in for the ride. The rhythm guitar work quickly outclassed my memory of the previous album, causing me to pull back for some additional listening of their debut recalling that I’d noted “Hädanförd” was really the signature piece and the way forward, it’d also had smoking whips into black and thrashing riffs throughout. Despite rediscovering this continuity in the midst of the first few full listens I’d felt the quite elaborate knack of the band clicking into view, for what it always was and what they’d improved upon in the process of stoking a second bout of fire. We reach a Bathory-esque point of grandeur between their cutting of huge riffs and laying out several evocative belts of choral vocals, all of it harmonizing to great effect by the time the song ends. A memorable event, perhaps to the point that the inherently depressing subject matter only lingers as a distant point of shock rather than a kick in the neck.

Despite Side A presenting a bigger, more nuanced and riff-forward side of the band it was “Kom eld, kom regn” that’d breached the threshold of fandom for my taste, wherein the Falkenbach-esque vikingr chorales shape a slow-built and burning harmony as the piece rolls from land to sea. The protagonist in this song is not what it seems at face value, wherein most could relate to a fellowe walking away from the existential dread of a mundane existence into, well, anything else. Yet this song’s subject takes a turn towards the fallout of what he’d deserted, a now single parent family and the reduced formative adaptability of an abandoned son. In this sense we’re granted a second parable which echoes inherently Scandinavian pagan values without necessarily feeling like a tale of arcane morality. Interpret it as you see fit but this song is very much the spectacle and tragedian soul of the album, the one to stand out on every listen with the ear concerted or otherwise.

There are a few points which’d specifically caught my attention on earlier runs through Side B which are yet worth highlighting. First, as the song reaches ~9:29 minutes in “Kom eld, kom regn” reprises a bit of that folkish yet aggressive melodicism which I’d compared to a certain nearby ‘Vansinnesvisorera‘ era of Thyrfing when writing about the previous record, arriving with group shouted verse at its peak. Minutes later the song takes a more aggressive turn, emphasizing the use of ringing dissonance, as if crashing waves, and a sort of prog-metal bent nod of thrashing aggression which peaks around ~12:33 minutes in. As the tale builds up its resounding peak in action, a self-destructive headspace for the protagonist Jordfäst of course resume thrashing like hell, a great example of the illustrative knack they’ve built between their two full-lengths, capable of turning on a dime with sense and matching the compelling arc of their lyrics with appreciably detailed but flowing movement. This song in particular felt like it’d taken a deeper step into possibilities in a way that I’d found myself wanting ten more of these folk-thrashing shanties to sit with for the afternoon, though I’d settle for this record on repeat for a while.

The takeaway from the full listen, which forms from a fairly messy pile of notes, finds me with an similar but intensified appreciation for a band who fit quite well in with its surroundings on Nordvis yet sustains their own very different sense of impact and voice through these organische yet beautifully detailed longform pieces. It still makes sense to consider their yarn in semblance of classic and distinctly Swedish storytelling, a bit of wintry depression ingrained into those who respect the true extremes of their clime, usually with a grisly corpse of some kind in conclusion of a good parable. It is an immersive, varied, and easily enjoyed full listen with plenty of surprising sparks of energy which manifest solely in service to the greater purpose of each song, the narrative. This is a second point towards their mastery of this ambitious yet not overbearingly extended vision and not an inconsequential step in their journey, once which has secured me as a fan. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Av Stoft
LABEL(S):Nordvis Produktion
RELEASE DATE:October 28th, 2022

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