Saturday, 7 August 2010

Skogen - Vittra (2009) 80/100.

Upon first coming across Sweden’s Skogen, I was half expecting a bland and boring dedication to the old school Scandinavian scene due to the fact that this twosome of J. Svensson and M. Nilsson operate under such a horribly generic name. However, this atmospheric black metal band are definitely not just another by-the-book dedication to a scene long put to bed. I, like a lot of people, need to be inspired and turned on by the aesthetics of a band in order to listen to them. Skogen’s name is generic, lets be fair, so that aspect of the band was never going to excite me, but the interesting artwork to this debut full-length, entitled ‘Vittra’, and the gorgeous band logo justified looking beyond the uninteresting band name. ‘Vittra’ is a rather lavish affair, clocking in at just under an hour, the album always remains interesting to listen to and despite the rather repetitive state of the instrumentation at times, the album doesn’t feel devoid of interesting moments due to the fact that Skogen like to integrate acoustics, clean vocals and sparsely used synths into their songs. The synths don’t override the rest of the material though, so don’t fret. I know a lot of people don’t like synths to dominate, so rest assured that they don’t.

Given the layered feel of the album, the material actually takes a number of listens to break down and fully analyse. The production is fantastic, too. The recording job done on this album is great as it does the terrific service to the layered approach. Like most atmospheric black metal bands, Sweden’s Skogen look to effects, keyboards and synths to play a role, albeit not a significant one, in transforming this from a predictably formatted album into one that shows a lot of creativity and dynamism without being ground breaking, or overly innovative. The approach is fairly simplistic and natural sounding. The keyboards and synths, as well as the occasional use of cleanly chanted vocals on songs like ‘Skuggorna Kallar’, add a natural feel to the album whilst the pummelling double bass and mish-mashed vocals add a typical side to the showcase which will make hardened black metal fans feel at home, whilst allowing newcomers a relatively easy listening experience to break them in. As you can probably tell, this album is accessible to all and remains engaging throughout with a very emotive backbone to each song, although the cleaner side to the band is certainly more fruitful when it comes to expressing those emotions.

The tempo of the album feels greatly important. It’s never too fast, nor too slow. It’s just about right, especially for newcomers to the scene as it allows an easy transition into the extreme metal field. Once again, ‘Skuggorna Kallar’ is a terrific example of this as it flitters between slow, mid paced and fast tempo changes, whilst also flirting with folksy sounds through the beautiful acoustics which are introduced alongside the double bass of the drums, which adds a nice contrast in speeds and textures. All the while Skogen are able to introduce the engaging and soaring symphonic structures without too much fuss. In fact, if it were not for the acoustics and double bass stopping in their tracks, I probably would not have noticed the synths being apart of the album, showcasing the layers with which this album is operating under and how much depth there is to the individual songs, as each tends to feature sections which need close examining. The production does a wonderful job at melding all influences and inspirations together, giving the entire album a very classy feel.

The album itself doesn’t feel like a non-stop black metal affair. In fact, it appears to take influence from a range of vastly different areas of metal and folk. The bass, although rather repetitive, is very bombastic and distinguishable from the rest of the elements, as shown well on songs like ‘Eld’. The folksy feel to the album, shown wonderfully through the acoustics, clean vocals and occasionally the epic synths, is exemplary of the fact that Skogen don’t appear too involved in the black metal scope. By this I mean that they’re inventive and open to suggestion, meaning they like to mix-and-match the general black metal structure with those outside of the metal field. ‘Eld’, once again, is a good example of this as the metallic vibe ceases and the acoustics become the leader of this atmospherically driven ship. There is a definite neofolk vibe to some of the themes on the album, which will probably cause people to liken ‘Vittra’ to any era of Agalloch, though I personally don’t feel the two are that similar, even though short filler songs like ‘Höst’ will remind people of Agalloch’s work on ‘The White’ EP. It’s just an easy comparison to make whenever neofolk comes into contact with metal. All in all this is a solid example of when atmospheric black metal branches out towards folk.

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