Reviewed: April 2009
Released: 2008, Osmose Productions
Reviewer: Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
Music fashioning itself as either minimalist or avant-garde takes a lot of risks by simply declaring itself as such. Comprised of members from several small underground black metal bands, Norway’s Sjodogg is such a band that dares to label themselves as dark metal minimalists – and it mostly works.
Creating bleak soundscapes is clearly Sjodogg’s specialty. Each track is filled with droning, destabilizing riffs that vary in repetition and tempo atop of blastbeats and midtempo double-kicks. Many doom/drone metal bands prefer to let turgidly slow, arrhythmic guitar playing create their trademark dirgelike sonic atmospheres, but Sjodogg’s music isn’t so simplistic. They generally employ and stick to a given time signature & tempo, which creates some stability in an otherwise chaotic listening experience. While many metal albums focus on pumping out strong riffs for maximum headbanging, LANDSCAPES seems more like “absolute” music – art for art’s sake, designed to draw specific emotions from the listener without concern for how pretty it sounds. And despite the minimalist dark metal label, Sjodogg is strongly rooted in old-school Norwegian black metal, and songs like the excellent “Inglorious Fever of Antonius” feel like they could have been written during the scene’s 90’s heyday.
Here’s where Sjodogg’s avant-garde element comes in. Some songs like “Mahapaatra” segue expertly between eerie acoustic glimmerings to hypnotic black metal, evoking a great contrast between beauty and wretchedness. Droning dirges like “A Song of Plague” do a great job of creating strong feelings of unease with each repetition of the funereal opening riff, which is woven in between varying blastbeats for added intensity. A couple of acoustic tracks scattered throughout provide a nice break from the heavier stuff without being too elaborate or distracting.
However, LANDSCAPES falls short when the band stretches their formula a little too far. Bizarre and poorly thought out tracks like “The Asphyxiation” are too uneven and borderline proggy. The ending track “Kiss of the Blowfly” didn’t stand out much, aside from abusing the limited talents of vocalist “Vulnus,” whose genuinely vomitous voice sticks out a little too much in the otherwise excellent mix. “The Asphyxiation” opens with 30 seconds of rhythmically barfed solo vocals that sound pretty awful (and not in a good way.) To his credit, Vulnus does some superbly creepy spoken word/chanting stuff in a few tracks that does a great job of adding that extra bit of creep factor – but his gurgly black metal voice and garbled Norwegian accent got pretty old after a while.
LANDSCAPES OF DISEASE AND DECADENCE will probably be seen as a risky purchase for the average black metal fan. This album doesn’t sound quite like anything I’ve ever heard before. It is a difficult work to listen to and appreciate, and it is likely the most challenging album I have listened to in some time. But Sjodogg has created something pretty unique (at least in my experience,) and for those feeling adventurous it may be worth a look.
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