SLEGEST – Avstand (2023)REVIEW

…all’ Dichtkunst und Poeterei ist nichts als Wahrtraum-Deuterei. — Fresh off his service in the Franco-Prussian War and inspired to the core by the post-exile work of Richard Wagner, as the maestro’s “music dramas” matured into a steady stream of masterpieces, the first official book to come from Nietzsche (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, 1872) reads in excitable tone for the sake of an intellectual artistic audience, its revisionist tunnel vision for dramatic theorem and Attic tragedy commanding a nigh religious sense of connection with ancient Hellenic culture, mysteries and the artes which yet held the spirit of the Dionysian idyll. We find considerable disdain for the mundanity of the (Apollonian) times he’d lived in splattered all over each page with a passion and cannot miss the point of view of the writer as he introduces a duality observable in mankind (specifically that of Western civilization) wherein the instinctive nature of man is lost within an entirely rationalized existence. The greater thought in summation was obscure but unoriginal for its time per the elite intellectual circles of Switzerland yet it remains plausibly profound today as we find said civilization in complete and utter decay, purposeless as a cheapened and plumped herd to the sun god’s slaughter. Western Norwegian black metal/heavy rock quartet Slegest capitalize upon the passionate themes of this work by drawing insight from within, fostering introspection to further illustrate the grey area of this duality while also ultimately falling the way of the satyr, desiring the continued decay of civilization back to nature. ‘Avstand‘ is otherwise another potent and representative example of the band’s penchant for the tuneful inner voice which has long driven their steady-kicking ride through blackened heavy rock n’ roll.

Slegest formed by way of vocalist/guitarist Stig Ese Eliassen, a fellow some will recognize as one of the original guitarists for popular Norwegian group Vreid on their first four albums. His initial goal was to combine heavy rock and traditional heavy metal influences with classic black metal aesthetics, an entirely natural marriage of forms which escaped the typical speed metal side of black n’ roll predominant in the 2010’s. The result of the quartet’s first few years of chipping away at ideas was a full-length (‘L​ø​yndom‘, 2013) which’d unsurprisingly delivered a polished and primed version of itself, a pretty clean and professional realization of its core idea, much more than a blueprint. We can find some temperamental precedence in the work of Khold, Sarke and a certain era of Darkthrone as distinctly Norwegian examples of this approach and influence but it is important to make the distinction that Ese‘s vision is far more rooted in the warmth and bustle of heavy rock and doesn’t play to black metal aggression on such a direct note. That first album cut straight to the big riff rock side of things and made a strong impression for it, it’d been enough to pull me in, having been a fan of where Vreid had been headed ’til 2011 or so.

Each record Slegest have released beyond their first has more-or-less been dictated by where it falls on the spectrum of heavy rock influence. Their second full-length (‘Vidsyn‘, 2016) took a more laid black approach, not exactly a Hellacopters record with black metal vocals but intently focused on one particular type of movement which dominated the mood of the full listen. The release of their third LP (‘Introvert‘, 2018) was a bit more in line with what I’d personally liked about the debut and it’d seem the band were at their most prolific and inspired at that point. Five years later with many passes through the pretty easy ~33 minute ride of ‘Avstand’ under my belt I’d make the argument that this fourth album outshines most of their prior material for the sake of focusing on variety of pacing and slightly more distinct songcraft by comparison. We get a bit more early 80’s rock infusion, a bit more personae within most pieces, and none of it overstays or overstates the moment they create.

Probably far too keyed into the insight available to the album’s themes after re-reading Nietzsche‘s first book it took a moment to find a tonal balance between the possessed intellectual revelry available to the suggested subject matter interpreted for modern consideration and the buzzing swagger that Slegest present on the first half of the album, they are still very much a heavy rock band out to put on a show with a dark introspective twist and that feeling comes first. With all lyrics in Norwegian any lyrical themes or meaning beyond superficial explanation are generally moot beyond any lyric videos provided, thankfully opener/lead single “Innsikt” makes it very clear that this is not a superficial examination they’ve tacked on. This opening piece is a fine example of the well-shaven tautness available to the songcraft found on the first half of ‘Avstand‘, swinging in its core progression and even leaning into a cowpunk-esque stride to start but dire in its overall tone as the mood fluctuates and dissolves. From the whistled melody which bookends the song to the bopping jog-and-march step of the tempo this is something a bit different from Slegest, or, at the very least this is the least black metal they’ve sounded off the bat to date.

From that point the momentum of the running order reads like a throwback punk n’ roll album as “Evigheit På Evigheit” pushes along with assertive rhythm guitar work which is characteristic of the artist, their signature generally laid out over the course of the first three songs. For my own taste “Forløysning og rus” is the peak of the action, the major hook and the bigger argument made that Slegest aren’t just another black n’ roll kinda band as they create a tactful tension all their own. The whole of Side A buzzes on in this way with speedier, tighter garage bound swagger which suits the band well and keeps the listen moving nicely as we reach the stop-gap beyond “Vinterkristus”. As we hit the flipside the tone of the album changes to that of an early 80’s heavy metal/hard rock stomp on “Gåte”. I’d appreciated the contrasting shift between the record’s two halves this song represented and that each song on the album counts as a considered, catchy piece among a diverse set but I didn’t see the argument made for “Er Det Deg Livet” as an exceptional circa ’82 heavy metal piece beyond its dual guitar interplay at midpoint. At that point ‘Avstand‘ begins to feel like a very good mLP, especially as their cover of Status Quo‘s “Oh Baby” reprises the jog of Side A and the album ends. It all works as a record which feels like it ends just as it heats up.

Short and effective with hardly a blip of filler, it’d been impossible to fault Slegest for ducking out of their own heat after such a strong and memorable Side A since the potency of their work ultimately outshines a certain percentage of past material. Does the rowdy breakthrough of the first half, heady theme attached and greater tension of it all balance out the lighter dent of the impression made? I suppose it does on my end simply because I took this whole record in as a hard rock album first and foremost with a bit of black metal snarl applied and this’d felt like the right vantage point. ‘Avstand‘ proved itself an easy record to pick up, burn through and enjoy as a short haul right to that “Slegest feeling” and I’d found that aspect of it valuable enough on its own. Did I end up going completely nuts for it? No, but I appreciate that I won’t find this sort of class anywhere else and it generally stuck with me. Getting a few songs stuck in my head, finding a redeeming detail or two in the performances upon each listen, and coming back for a few dozen spins was just enough to sell me on the record plus, sure, the assigned reading racked up a bit of extra fealty at the end of the day. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
ARTIST:SLEGEST
TITLE:Avstand
LABEL(S):Dark Essence Records
RELEASE DATE:January 20th, 2023

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