I was enamored with Vattnet Viskar’s debut EP when it first hit my eardrums just last year. While the United States black metal scene has no shortage of epic-minded bands determined to bring the genre into even more of an atmospheric nature-worshiping direction, Vattnet Viskar (Swedish for “the water whispers”) distinguished themselves from the pack by achieving the same compositional magic without relying on atmospheric synths, shamanic chants, or other easily misused and overdone elements. All there was on the record were bass, guitar, drums, and vox; nothing else was needed for the band to realize their vision. Sky Swallower, their first full-length LP, is the closest they have come yet to creating their ideal sound, and it’s amazing to see how far the band has matured in just a year.
The gift for post-rock inspired composition that the band displayed on their earlier EP is given even more life this time around, now that the band has an entire album’s worth of material to work with. Most of the record consists of longer tracks broken up midway through by quieter, almost doomy interludes of minimalist guitar playing that let the empty spaces between notes take the spotlight. These give a welcome respite from the rapturous black metal passages, which mix the evocative emotional qualities of Deafheaven with the shamanistic conjurations of Wolves in the Throne Room. The fact that the band’s been able to evoke these feelings without superfluous field recordings or spoken-word passages speaks to the strength of their compositions. Within the space of a single song they tackle black metal, shoegaze, drone-doom, and more while making it seem like the most natural musical progression in the world. They flux between near-silent intimacy and full-on black metal fury in a multi-pronged assault on the senses, and each shift comes at a perfectly natural time. There’s an impeccable sense of peaks and valleys on Sky Swallower, and no transition ever seems jarring or too sudden.
Even from the opening salvo of “New Alchemy,” you’re bound to realize that this album is above the fold, and it only gets better from there – the closing few chords of “Fog of Apathy” are sure to stir the heart-strings of anyone who’s ever stood alone in a foggy forest in the dead of night, and the arcing strings of “Breath of the Almighty” mark the closest that this heretic’s ever come to a divine revelation. When the last few notes of the majestic closer “Apex” fade away into silence it feels like the band’s brought us through the entire cycle of autumn, from the first tree changing color to the last leaf fallen on the ground.
Sky Swallower is one of those classic examples of an album being greater than the sum of its parts. When you get down to it, it’s really just two guitars, a bass, a drumkit, and a growling vocalist up front. But on Sky Swallower, Vattnet Viskar have done what other bands would need an orchestra of ancillary performers to achieve. It’s a cohesive album from front to back; never disjointed and constantly rewarding.