Friday, 23 April 2010

Svarti Loghin - Empty World (2008) 85/100.

Svarti Loghin’s debut full-length, entitled ‘Empty World’ is often credited as being one of the best recent depressive black metal records, though I find that Svarti Loghin’s music often transcends that particular sub-genre and becomes so much more than just another dedication to the depressive scene. In fact, at times, I find their music somewhat upbeat, a characteristic of this multi-faceted album brought to life by the integral guitars. I’ve read reviews of ‘Empty World’ and an interview with the band members themselves which classifies their latest sound, which widely deviates from the standard set on this particular piece of music, as “fluffy”. This is probably due to the accessible and spacious production used on the record which gives it a distinctively positive feel on occasions, though the album isn’t without its periods of moodiness and tetchiness which has made it apart of the depressive movements elite. It would be tempting to think of Svarti Loghin as a brother to bands like fellow Swedish act Hypothermia, especially considering Kim has worked for Svarti Loghin in the past, but they’re unlike their fellow countrymen in many ways. ‘Empty World’ is only the beginning of the exploration into a new territory for black metal, but it’s a stable foundation for the band to build upon with their glorious sophomore, ‘Drifting Through The Void’.

Often within the depressive scene, bands will employ a suffocating production that squeezes the life out of its environment, and its listener. Svarti Loghin, especially in recent times, have opted to use a style of production more akin to the likes of the Cascadian bands, as opposed to the average depressive band. The production is wide open, allowing the music to drift around its environment and leave no stone unturned. The stylistic approach isn’t what I’d call extremely experimental, but it does have its heart set on producing an affair that isn’t what one would normally expect of a band in this area of black metal. The guitars have a lot to do with this. If we take into account songs like the self-titled track, ‘Empty World’, we could even say that Svarti Loghin are far removed from depressive black metal given their use of uplifting atmospherics, despite the screamed vocals of S.L., and particularly through their use of clean guitars and a bass that doesn’t just exist as a back-up to the distorted guitars.

In fact, the bass becomes imperative during songs like ‘Empty World’ because, unlike certain other elements of other songs, it’s very experimental and driven towards leading the song at hand. I don’t find songs like ‘Empty World’ all that unhappy. It doesn’t evoke any sort of feeling of desolation, but rather a rejuvenation of the self, life and, in particular, nature. Songs like ‘Empty World’ transform from your regular, standardised black metal affair into the beating heart of mother nature herself. These characteristics -- featuring slow to mid paced structures, clean instrumentation and wondrous bass lines -- aren’t the norm for all of the songs. In fact, up until ‘Empty World’ itself, the record exists in the form of a strong, but standardised black metal shape. Songs like ‘Inner Desolation’ begin to express the experimental factors of songs like ‘Empty World’ and ‘The Silence Always Returns’, but there are far more regular traits to the opening two songs than the following two, though they have their individual moments of brilliance (particularly ‘Inner Desolation’ and the rock-ish vibe it holds towards the end of the song).

This includes a lot more repetition, particularly on guitar, and a bombastic atmosphere which tries to forge out a pattern of desolation but doesn’t quite live up to the expectations that one normally holds when entering into an environment that has previously been described as “depressive”. The vocals, supplied well by S.L, are one of the only elements that actually give me the feeling that there is some form of pain, or hurt that has gone into the make-up of this record. They’re not rasped, but screamed instead. Reminding me somewhat of bands like Apathia, the vocals are definitely not the main highlight of the record, though they’re certainly not a negative either. The progression of the vocals on the sophomore pleased me greatly, as well as surprising me greatly, so, in hindsight, I can see that there is no lasting issue with the vocals. They’re not what I’d consider generic, but they don’t strike me as a surprise package either, unlike elements like the bass, which is often at the forefront.

The cleaner side, which provides a delicate, psychedelic tinge to the atmosphere, is what comes across as the outstanding element of the record, as a whole. The pleasing song writing has made subtle experimental factors, like the bass and fluidity of the guitars, a force behind the scenes of the main sound of Svarti Loghin, of which there are two different aspects to their overall game. The percussion was also surprising due to the fact that it doesn’t rely too heavily on double bass blasts and is given a soft-ish sound, particularly in relation to the cymbals and snare, which are usually very snappy and biting. Though this may seem like a small, rather insignificant alteration on the part of the band, it plays a massive part when it comes to providing that necessary back-up to the atmosphere in regards to the unusual uplifting vibe I hear in a lot of the instrumentation, particularly in the albums two best songs, ‘Empty World’ and ‘The Silence Always Returns’, which begins with an Agalloch-esque styled guitar tone and then transforms into a song akin to bands like Germany’s nature inspired, atmospherically rich Horn. Although the debut doesn’t quite match the high standards of the sophomore, it is still a wonderfully crafted album.

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