It really pleases me to see that the American post-rocky take on black metal still hasn’t run out of steam yet. It’s been a long time* since the first releases of bands like Agalloch and Wolves in the Throne Room, who many could argue were the ones that really got the ball rolling in the first place. Since then both aforementioned acts are still releasing new, fresh, and fantastic records while likeminded groups like Deafheaven and Vattnet Viskar continue to carry the torch. Black metal’s had a flair for the atmospheric ever since the early releases of legends like Burzum and Darkthrone, but the build-and-release innovations are definitely an American invention, and the genre’s far better off for it. The merger of black metal’s lo-fi Wagnerisms with a post-rock sensibility of slow builds and epic climaxes works incredibly well when done right, and the promising new EP from Vattnet Viskar does an excellent job of truly merging the two styles together instead of switching between them wholesale over the course of a song. Instead of lengthy synthesizer-bolstered passages awash with soaring female vocals followed by an awkwardly immediate transition as the band realizes it’s been more than five minutes and they should probably go back to black metal now, Vattnet Viskar are all drums, guitar, and bass all the time – nothing else is featured, and nothing else is needed.
While their contemporaries traffic in pristine production and unearthly Alcestian shimmers, these guys are far more raw and immediate. Everything’s still distinguishable and there’s no muddy maelstrom of impenetrable noise, but there’s just enough of a filthy edge for it to be considered a black metal album. And the compositions are top-notch, man. These guys have a great grasp of harmony through black metal riffs – it’s not quite on the same level as the Steve Reichian neoclassicalisms of Wolves in the Throne Room, but it’s definitely well on its way to getting there. “Weakness” and “Intention/Oblivion” are just as evocative as a black metal song should be, and the slow build at the end of the latter – along with the extended climaxes which dominate the closer “Barren Earth” – sound almost like early Darkthrone jamming with Explosions in the Sky. You’d undoubtedly be asking how something with that blasphemous a description can be this damn good, but if you’ve been following the development of black metal over the past decade you’ve no doubt asked yourself that countless times before, and been endlessly rewarded by a large number of bands despite your initial doubts. Kvltists should check their scorn at the door and enjoy the music for what it is – that is, if there are even any kvltists left at this point.**
This is a surprisingly cohesive work from such a young band. Over the course of only three songs, Vattnet Viskar place themselves on the same level as genre-bending contemporaries like Deafheaven and continue the metamorphosis of black metal far beyond its original Norwegian vision. It’s an incredibly promising EP, and after the last chords of “Barren Earth” wisp away, you’ll no doubt be as excited for the full-length as I am.
*A decade is a long time. If you disagree, you’re old.
** I’m beginning to think the Trv Kvlt Norsk Arisk Blækk Metall purist is just a strawman for us music journalists to conjure up whenever we lazily need to meet a deadline. And in that role, they excel.
Artist: Vattnet Viskar
Album: Vattnet Viskar
Label: Broken Limbs Recordings
Release Date: March 20th, 2012