Review Summary: "I've helped to destroy the stage."
That Swedish band with that dodgy name. You'll probably get more nods of acknowledgement from metal music fans than if you'd suggest they grab one side of your in-ears, tap foots in synchronization and bob heads in unison to Vildhjarta. That's what you get for being unpronouncable. Fortunately, whilst I was travelling in China there were a couple of Danish in my hostel in Yangshuo which taught me how to pronounce it right. Apparently it was Swedish for "wild heart". I remember biking with my buddies through the karst mountains, past farmers, tiny restaurants and scenic highlights. Us being generally lazy and getting out too late we would be on our way back way too late and had to bike over Chinese motorways in the dark, with half-broken taillights looking out for one another. It was very unsettling and creepy, bordering on foreboding, but the experience also had an reinvigorating beauty about it that alarmed and excited us. I happened to have one side of my ear-phones firmly pressed against my eardrum that looped some early Vildhjarta demo's, making it forever tied to that experience. After many years of hype, anticipation and delay, Vildhjarta -who incidentally formed in 2005- finally managed to usher their debut onto the scene through Century Media Records, called Måsstaden
. Another quirky name. I put on the album starting with track number one, "Shadow
". I smiled. No, I grinned. The music that shared my experience sounded very much like it.
While technical in scope, with a plenitude of tempo shifts, Måsstaden
isn't overly technical in the sense that it beats your head about with polyrhythmic madness. In fact, much of the material adheres to standard mid-tempo time signatures with guitars taking the spotlight to get you to groove and bob with spheric, syncopated, dissonant riffs. Perhaps it is not so strange that guitars center on the pedestal, when you realize that three of the seven members are axe-wielders (Bergström, Åkerström and Thomer). The downfall of opting to downtune guitars as extremely as these three do, is that Nyberg's bass work goes largely unnoticed and falls by the wayside; undeservedly so as he does much to ensure that the sonic assault blazes through not only your ears, but also your gut (Dagger
). Lindkvist walks a fine line with providing very solid drum work, but balancing on the tightrope with on one side tastefully doing just what the song needs and on the other side becoming an uremarkable rhythmic backbone for the rest of the band to go frantic on. He gracefully keeps his balance but sways rather dangerously to one side or the other at times.
Songs like Eternal Golden Monk
set the band apart from their peers, throwing you into a warping fray of dissonant riffs left and right from the get-go, playing with interjected creepy, clean guitar passages to give birth to an unsettling mood. Relying so strongly on guitars for setting a signature atmosphere (Phobon Nika
), there's a danger of the music becoming a celebration of smiting riff after smiting riff and coherent songwriting taking a backseat, resulting in a disjointed product (Benblåst
). In the eyes of the musician it's a moment of intimacy, while it throws your average music listener off balance, begging for how we define Måsstaden
as a concept album. Although it does tell the tale of a hidden and isolated village -the title translates as "City of Seagulls"-, it is not necessarily a concept album in terms of songwriting and lyricism, but more so because of it's unsettling vibe, beautifully creepy and sincerely dark mood that gets magnified with each listen. That said, Vildhjarta manage to surprise with inventively quirky passages and turns that feel like building blocks in constructing a coherent piece of work instead of being its structural weaknesses (When No One Walks With You
). That is why Måsstaden
and Vildhjarta are an altogether different type of beast.
Vildhjarta employ a grunt/scream approach with Vilhelm Bladin taking on the lowly grunts and Daniel Ädel settling for the mid-range screams. While there isn't anything too exceptional on offer, the two give a wicked performance and work well together, bouncing off each others energy. It will surely sit well with those who prefer vocals in this vain rather than vocals forming (Deceit
a detached layer that draws attention away from the music as a whole and disconnects the) listener. While former vocalist Robert Luciano showcased a remarkable voice on Vildhjarta's earlier demo material, the decision to not include clean vocals compliments the unsettling mood that Vildhjarta wants to achieve with Måsstaden
. In fact, the singular exception to this is found on Traces
, where the brief introduction of lamenting, sorrowful vocals provides the substantive quality that the song needed to 'work'. As the saying goes, less is more; while the clean vocals wouldn't fit anywhere else on the record, you want to hear them again. In the same vein, melodic moments that were more of an obvious core part of the demo material serve as tasteful flourishes here.
Make no mistake, Måsstaden
is never the messiah of modern metal or the pinnacle of it's genre. It is not the perfect concoction of spices, flavour and freshness, but because it's very much a fingerlickingly tasteful combobulation of those (The Lone Deranger
), it will surely secure on a spot on many lists of 'music that stood out in 2011'. Ultimately it is the type of debut that forces you to wonder about a future sophomore release right away. It's the type of debut that -while securing a warm, tiny spot in your 'freakshow music' collection- will make you wonder whether the feat can be repeated or even improved on. Vildhjarta have been either blessed or cursed with being able to brood over the material on Måsstaden
for quite a couple of years, but we can't say for sure yet. As a result, it's hard to get a feel of what the Swedish djentlemen, excuse me, gentlemen endeavour and embody with their brand of metal. That's where the coming challenge lies for Vildhjarta, but i'll be spinning Måsstaden