JOHN TRON DAVIDSON
Black metal can be a very frustrating mistress. Orthodoxy runs rampant through the scowling hordes; if you’re going to stand out you better stick your head, shoulders, knees and toes up too. There’s plenty of examples of second-wave BM out there, and a few firebrands on the scene really challenging what the grimmest metal is all about, but few standing with a foot on each side of the fence. Enter Sweden’s GRÁ with their new album Väsen, which scurries into the dark of a realm between worlds.
While their previous albums Ending and GRÁ being primo examples of the frozen ‘90s brought into the modern day and those same years being left where they remain respectively, the evolutionary stage was set for the Swedes to make the next step up, and indeed they have. Your writer was deeply concerned that such a boss cover would have a pimply, under-developed record behind it, but this is not the case.
Väsen opens with the rasping, flailing darkness of ‘Till Sörjerskorna’, which shifts direction surprisingly and firmly with the sort of drumbeats you don’t often find in the BM pantheon. Tearing into album highlight ‘King Of Decay’, the croaking vocals, uneasy tempos and buzzing, fizzing guitars are a world away from the cleaner lines demonstrated on Ending, and even the line “when push comes to shove” caught your writer off guard.
GRÁ seem determined to sprinkle their new record with a selection of fine absurdity, with the Tron: Legacy style opening to ‘Gjallarhorn’ being particularly incongruous. Despite reading about their intention to slide some synths in, this initially disquieting deployment seemed ill-judged until your writer spun the record a few times, and it made more sense. The staggering of ‘Dead Old Eyes’, the off-centre orchestration, the constant left turns; GRÁ are shedding their skin.
Everything about this is off, somehow, and on purpose. The vocals have delay all over them, but it’s not syncopated to the tracks, resulting in an eerily disjointed feel; the drum mix is slightly too loud, making the whole kit sound closer than the rest of the instruments, and the deeply metallic guitars hiss away as though they are the dead themselves. It’s as if the band have deliberately removed some of their humanity in order to take their craft one step further, and it’s working.
Easily the most confounding and surprising track here is ‘The Devil’s Tribe’, which appears to contain a Theremin. This is, your writer can reveal after some investigation, possibly the only black metal track to feature a Theremin, and although the construction of this piece is a bit silly, the brass of writing it in the first place would gain it a couple of extra points if DTF utilised a points system.
Closing out the record is the title track, which makes a solemn journey from romping, frosty mountains to a positively refined finish via tastefully grim acoustic work. In all honesty, this is as fitting an end as Väsen could feasibly have, and it’s positively waltzing in places. From the outset and into multiple listens, this record keeps you guessing, and though very firmly rooted in the soil of black metal (especially Dissection, Wolf’s Lair Abyss-era Mayhem, Dark Funeral and a splash of Paysage D’Hiver), it really doesn’t have any rules at all, rendering it lighter somehow. A strangely endearing record for its contrariness, this has kvlt classic written all over it. Wicked.
Heljarmaðr - Vocals, guitars
Dimman - Drums
Maugrim - Guitars
Vediger - Bass
King Of Decay
Dead Old Eyes
The Devil’s Tribe
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