Say what you will about the post-black metal subgenre, but one thing for sure is that it always seems to retain this earthly delight to it. There are times when music can be too slick, too polished and too pristine – is this an actual flawed human playing an instrument or a computer? With post-black metal, the polish is kept to a minimum in order to give the music a rather grounded and measured quality, which is more than a little endearing. So it’s pleasing to hear that VANHELGA’s latest offering in “Fredagsmys” is pipe-and-slippers comfortable within that natural sound.
Of course, the overall sound and production can only do so much unless the actual material recorded is any good, so how does VANHELGA fare in that department? Well, with four albums prior and seventeen years under their belt, the band are old hat at writing this stuff, so “Fredagsmys” is what you’d come to expect from them. You’ve got your fast black metal passages, ala “Psykotisk Självinsikt”; you’ve got your exciting, uplifting gallops (the multifaceted “Förpassad Till Misär”); and your melodic, arpeggiated riffs (the majestic “Feels Like Breathing In Sulfur”). There’s plenty for everyone!
One other area post-black metal records excel in is the use of melody, and “Fredagsmys” makes use of this in spades. The whistling in “Psykotisk Självinsikt”, the extensive use of acoustic guitars and harmonised leads, and the use of piano throughout (including the achingly beautiful finale of the title track), all combine to make for a compelling listen. Of course, none of this is particularly new or innovating – countless other bands have done similar – but it just hits that certain sweet spot. Melody and melancholy: a (dreary) winning combination.
This, naturally, offers a contrast to the coarse, rabid shrieks of frontman Jacob Ottosson and it works so deliciously well. The two bring out the best in each other, all the while adding a broad sense of adventure to proceedings. None more so than on the terrifying “Keep The Window Closed” – a crushing insight into the pitfalls of mental illness set to a strangely beautiful cacophony. It’s worth a listen if only for the pained screams of Ottosson during the track’s conclusion – agony, despair and desperation all evident in a heartbreaking fashion. Real humans making real music.
With that in mind, we can begin to appreciate the body of work for what it is: an exciting and flawed album, made by excited and flawed humans. The reality of the album is a major strength, and the emotive aspect (the despair, melancholia and beauty) all work together to provide something altogether more wholesome for the discerning listener. Other areas of music discuss issues of humanity and emotion, but it’s rarely more than a superficial nod in that direction. Not this. Every note and beat makes a stark point of playing emotively and it’s something more bands could do with attempting.
While the wider genre fluctuates, VANHELGA remain a solid, dependable act. This era makes life difficult for bands so their longevity suggests that they’ve hit upon the right set of notes. There may be finer examples in the subgenre, but “Fredagsmys” is the sort of post-black metal album fans of the genre would hope to get: a core of cold black metal wrapped snugly with melody, beauty and heartbreak. Just consider drafting someone in for a cuddle after.
2. Psykotisk Självinsikt
3. Varde Mörker
4. Ensam Mot Alla
5. Förpassad Till Misär
6. Två Blir Ett
7. Keep The Window Closed
8. RIP (Relationship In Pieces)
9. Feels Like Breathing In Sulfur
10. You Are Temporary
Jacob “145188” Ottosson – Vocals & Guitar
Johan Ejnarsson – Guitar & Vocals
R. Jönsson – Bass
D. Franzén – Drums