Monday, July 7, 2014

Vintersorg - Naturbål: Masterlord SteelDragon's Decree

Masterlord SteelDragon has some time on his iron hands, and instead of searching for new employment or helping Mrs. SteelDragon out around the house, he's been putting it to good use: sitting atop his skull-throne with Trollson Cromcakes as his footstool, and his dominion stretching ever before him. It's given me the opportunity to listen to more music than usual, and one album in particular has been monopolizing my time. I don't like waxing poetic because real men don't wax anything ever, but Vintersorg's Naturbål is so deserving of your attention that I'm going to review it.

In 2011, the release of Jordpuls marked the beginning of a four album series based on the classical elements. Let's play a game. I'll show you images of the album covers, and you tell me which element the album is based on. Ready set go:

Ok, wrong. "Trees" is not an element. What is wrong with you? Here's a hint: jordpuls translates to "earthpulse." Wrong again. "Pulse" is also not an element.

I bet you were going to say Water. You were, weren't you? Well guess what, nerd? You're wrong again because orkan means "hurricane," which represents Air. I'll admit that one was tricky, what with all of that blue water. I will award you half of one half of one steel half-credit.

Which brings us to Naturbål or "Nature's Bonfire." Yes - this one is about Fire. Eat like a king tonight and enjoy the comfort of many fine women, for you have earned it. To the guy who said "lava" or "volcano": compare yourself to them and then kill yourself.

Vintersorg's last outing came to us in 2012, scarcely one year after Jordpuls was released. Knowing this, I was hopeful that Naturbål would be hot-on-the-heels of Orkan. Still, two years is nothing to sneeze at in a genre where the likes of Necrophagist and Jari Mäenpää's Wintersun tramp about unpunished, especially when you consider the quality of the material here. Andreas Hedlund and Mattias Markund have delivered the same blend of black metal and melodic, prog-laced folk that fans have come to expect from them, and that, my minions, is a very good thing.

After an obligatory but inoffensive intro, Hedlund belts out a familiar rasp and "Ur aska och sot" erupts into a squall of blast beats and trem-picking that sounds as pissed off as anything I've ever heard out of Vintersorg. In fact, this entire album feels considerably more aggressive than their previous work, with a higher percentage of black metal and more harshness in general. It's even reflected in the more subdued interludes prevalent in Vintersorg's music: while in Jordpuls they were spirited and blithe, here they brim with an almost threatening volatility.

But, shower singers rejoice! - the extra dose of aggression doesn't detract from Andreas Hedlund's mastery over the memorable chorus. His knack for crafting beautiful and unconventional melodies is in full force here, and his phrasing weaves unpredictably over the bouncing riffs. Take notice, because albums that will satisfy your fiery metal heart while still being catchy enough for your imaginary girlfriend don't come around very often. I've been singing "Överallt och ingenstans" in broken Swedish for days, and "Lågornas rov's" endearing quirk reminds of the excellent chorus in Jordpuls' "Klippor och skår."

"En blixt från klar himmel" almost lost me but eventually managed to reclaim my attention with Enslaved-flavored riffing under harmonic, Viking-like chants. In sections like this, the prog abides, but followers of the band won't be surprised to hear that Hedlund is continuing his recent trend of dialing down the progressive influence in favor of a more traditional sound, which means plenty of folk for all you kilt-clad tankard-raisers out there. Parts of "Elddraken" even have a bit of a Baltic gypsy vibe reminiscent of TrollfesT. Permission granted for Trollson to dance about in my hall, but let it be known that any further slander concerning my truly impressive proportions will result in my bibbing from your cloven skull as if it were a goblet.

As great as this record is, there are a few minor missteps which the hardened music critics and/or chronic bellyachers among you are bound to notice. Apparently a certain Simon Lundström is responsible for contributing bass guitar this time around. I say apparently because if I hadn't read it with my own two charming eyes, I wouldn't have believed that he showed up to the studio at all - I can't hear a damn thing he supposedly did in there. I'm aware that requesting audible bass when black metal is involved is a fruitless endeavor, but it never seemed to be a problem for Vintersorg until now and I miss it dearly. Some of you will also be sure to notice that Naturbål, like all of Vintersorg's work, is a perilous concoction of busy and loud. Audiophiles, be ye warned!

I've heard some additional complaints from the endless herd of bovid populating the internet that Jordpuls, Orkan, and now Naturbål (all based on different elements, remember?), don't sound any different from one another. To you I say - thou art dorks. If you can't hear the jovial nature of Nature in Jordpuls, then you obviously don't know what an earthpulse is and should read a book for once in your life. If the windswept melodies of Orkan don't conjure up lucid visions of gale and gust, then you've never left the drab cave in which you were so unfortunately born. From the frantic intensity of "Ur aska och sot" to the soft glow of "Själ i flamma," Naturbål bleeds Fire, and bleeds it well. If you need more Fire than that, go jump in a furnace.

Naturbål is out now on Napalm Records.

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