Review Summary: A marvel of harsh black metal and the grandeur of some amazing melodies.
All too often within the genre of black metal, the best bands out there are the ones you have never heard of. This is why there are just so many hidden gems out there, because there are so many bands who release albums not for recognition or money, but for the sheer fun and meaning of it. So, if you locate bands like these you will most certainly find some of the most emotional and thoughtful pieces of music in the genre today. With the big name acts such as Satyricon, Burzum, Emperor, Immortal, or Ulver either disbanded, shifting musical styles, or locked up behind bars, the genre as a whole is in desperate need of something to refresh and renew the momentum it had going about a decade ago. Black metal needs more bands to take what black metal is and make it interesting and fresh again.
Sykdom is a one man Norwegian black metal band, consisting of its sole member Herr Sykdom. What Sykdom does to make their music so completely captivating and so fresh to the ears of a weary black metal listener is his brilliant, almost uncanny knack to take one sole element from the black metal greats and one-up them in nearly every aspect. It’s like listening to the haunting melodies of Dissection, coupled with the masterful symphonic elements of Emperor, the ambiance of newer Burzum, the harsh, high pitched screeches of old-school Darkthrone, and wrapping it up into an album filled with surprising transitions and grandiose guitar leads which scream brilliance. It’s something which may sound like it’s been tried before, but upon listening there is no doubt that one will be taken aback by the way this style is written and presented.
The second full-length by Sykdom, Mjollnir
, is a work of black metal brilliance, and you will certainly think by the sound of this album that it was produced back in 1993. In fact, Mjollnir
was recorded and mastered in mid-2005, but it sounds like something straight out of the fabled early-90’s Norwegian black metal scene. With five tracks running a total play time of just over 40 minutes, don’t expect to put this album on to listen to one quick track. With the exception of one track, each song clocks in at over seven minutes, something which many black metal fans are probably already used to, but the long track lengths will most certainly fly by as your attention is captured by the enticing blend which can be described as something like symphonic melodic black metal.
The very first thing which crossed my mind upon listening to this was something along the lines of “Was this thing the black metal incarnation of Burzum’s Hlidskjalf
?”. Indeed, upon the opening seconds of “I Am God” is a keyboard-driven melody which sounds almost exactly like something Varg Vikernes wrote on his later works. This association is soon erased as the guitars, drums, and bass come screaming in, but that keyboard melody seems to float in and out throughout the entire track, citing bands like Burzum and Emperor heavily. However, it’s not just the keyboards which make the melodies what they are on this album. I’m a fan of keyboard-centered melodies, but nothing will quite make an album as special as some melodic guitar leads. Sure, keyboards are cool and all, but guitars create a sound which is much more emotional and personal than a simple keyboard melody. If you listen to the very melodic tracks “What Lies Beneath…” and “Hekseri” you will know exactly what I mean. The guitar leads are slow, heavy and downright amazing. It has a touch of Dissection noticeable, along with other bands such as Wyrd, Nokturnal Mortum, or Vinterland.
Even the heaviest track on the album, the aptly titled “***ing War” contains a series of noticeable melodic leads and riffs which simply compliments the absolutely thunderous double bass. It’s with things like this which makes this album so successful, the seemingly natural blending of so many different styles and views of black metal, which makes this album so amazing. The instruments compliment the vocal style as well, which is straight-up old school black metal type vocals. They are very raspy, high-pitched cries which many black metal fans will enjoy, seeing how well they go along with melodic guitars. If a band wants to make melodies seem that much better, there is nothing better than to place a verse of screaming vocals in front of that riff, because the harshness of the vocals contrasts the melodic guitars so much that each element stands out more than if they were alone.
The use of keyboards and acoustic guitars are noticeably widespread, complimenting the guitar leads and such, and often open and close tracks, as well as providing a calming or serene bridge to break from the heavy black metal. Never at any point in the album would I get tired of listening to it, because the changes are so fluid and numerous that it keeps thing interesting and always directs your attention to what is being played. The album is produced in typical black metal fashion, with the vocals being produced loudly in comparison to the instruments, but that is nothing to worry about and takes nothing away from the overall feel of the album. The drums are especially well-produced, with the double bass having just the right effect, something which I appreciate immensely.
All in all, every singly song on Mjollnir
has something new to offer and something interesting to listen to, whether it be an amazing guitar melody, a nice ambient effect, shredding double bass, or the awesome vocals, there is something on here to please any black metal fan. Certainly one of the best melodic black metal albums I have ever heard, I am eager to hear more from Sykdom in the future. A criminally overlooked release which takes you back to the days when black metal was something to marvel at, not something to point and laugh at.
- What Lies Beneath...
- ***ing War