Thursday, June 20, 2013

Norrsköld - Blessings Of Winter (EP) (2013)

It's scary to think that a mere two years ago, black metal in all its forms was barely on my periphery. That is to say, I just didn't get it. But some 800 days and countless albums later, it's all started to come together. Granted, a large part of the assimilation process was thanks to the progressive thinking of Malnatt. But regardless of how you get from point A to point B, the greater appreciation you've accumulated is well worth the journey. It becomes easy, then, to appreciate the work of Henrik Bodin-Sköld, mastermind and centerpiece of Norrsköld, a project which he defines as "multimetal from the cold forests of Sweden." What that means may not be immediately clear, but after the six tracks that make up the debut "Blessings Of Winter" EP, you'll start to understand. Rooted in black metal, but with branches extending to a wealth of other subgenres and styles, this is an effort that ties together the past, present, and future of metal's most controversial and misunderstood genre.

Melody may not be the main focus, but there are a fair share of infectious ones scattered throughout the album, beginning with the opening shots on "Night Crystals." But they are a second tier factor here, buried beneath a wave of rapid fire drums and grating screams. The track is well arranged, always maintaining a balance between aggression and cohesive songwriting. The short acoustic break midway through does wonders to reset the counter and start the building anew. But it is the final minute that rings the most true, allowing the guitars and drums to lock together, and provide a booming outro. With a strong focus on percussion, there is never a shortage of crippling blast beats and thunderous kick drums, as you clearly hear on "Dreamless." Together with a very strong bass presence, you have an anchor that keeps the track grounded enough to blossom organically. Much like the previous track, a stunningly beautiful, quiet interlude separates the song into two halves of the same whole, unleashing a battery of melodic guitar riffs in the latter half. That said, it is the title track that leaves the most lasting impression. "Blessings Of Winter" is a moving, clean piece of work of winding guitars and a low key bass element. Layered and dazzling, it shows another side of what has been a straightforward black metal album thus far.

With that versatility now out in the open, "Dead meadows now expands on the theme. On one hand, you have a blaring, blackened opus, complete with a pounding drum sound that could result in severe brain trauma. On the other hand, though, you have a sweeping melodic masterpiece, with jazz elements at play. How the two come together is interesting, if not very rigid. The outro portion, which encompasses the last thirty seconds or so, is a beast of its own, standing apart from the body of the piece. While it is great to have a flow within each song, the way the songs come together is just as important. And "Solar Prominence" is a great example of how the end of one track can be the beginning of another. The two aren't directly connected, but there is a puzzle piece feel here, as if they were written to fit together. With the lack of a vocal track here, the weight shifts completely to the instrumental. Without stretching, it is safe to say they handle the burden with great skill and timing, laying down the best four minutes on the album. The finale takes a turn for the epic, in both length and scope. This is a "full circle" kind of effort, with "Where Death Smites" connecting all of the dots left vacant along the way, while retracing the steps they've made thus far. It's victory comes in the development from beginning to end, taking you up and down, side to side, and hitting every note along the way.

We've see the flood gates opened in the realm of black metal; bands are doing new and unique things every day. Norrsköld may not be the first black metal project you've heard to infuse a healthy dose of melody to the mix, but they are one of the best at doing it. They've managed to find a striking balance here, one that allows the music to stay heavy without losing its identity. What Bodin-Sköld has done is given enough of himself to make this project sound different from the others, even if the elements are the same. The use of session musicians can, in some cases, dilute the finished product, and move it away from the initial vision. But that isn't the case here, with all four guests adding another layer of power to the album as a whole. It's difficult to guess how he'll continue to evolve from here; EPs are always a good start, but dangerous to follow. But regardless of how the music changes, if it does at all, it is safe to say that "Blessings Of Winter" won't be the last time the name Norrsköld slips out of our mouths.


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