Words About Music
Vattnet Viskar “Sky Swallower”
The past decade has been exciting and strange for the excitingly strange and polarizing subcategory of metal known as black metal. For those who aren’t aware of this genre, its humble beginnings can be found in European heavy metal bands like Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost, who fused thrash metal and death metal in the 80s and kickstarted what would become one of the most beloved and hated genres in the musical spectrum. It found its real bearings in Norway in the early 90s though, with groups such as Mayhem, Immortal, Darkthrone, Emperor, and everyone’s favorite, Burzum. These guys created what is now known as the ethos for black metal, which involves fast tempos, shrieked vocals, blast beats, and very raw lo-fi recordings. Black metal has since gone in all sorts of different directions. Varg Vikernes of Burzum seems to have accidentally created some sort of Nazi faction in the black metal scene, which is looked down upon by most black metal fans. In America though, bands like Xasthur, Nachtmystium, Krallice, Wolves In The Throne Room, Liturgy, and Deafheaven have pretty much rejected most of black metal’s main ideologies and even sounds. Wolves In The Throne Room call themselves a black-metal inspired rock band. Liturgy eschewed the negative lyricism of black metal in favor of more positive and uplifting themes. Deafheaven added post-rock, shoegaze, and dream pop into the mix to create one of black metal’s most polarizing releases to date. And this brings us to New Hampshire’s Vattnet Viskar.
Vattnet Viskar is a heavy metal band that combine traditional black metal styles with sludge metal, post-metal, and loads of atmosphere and ambience. They gained some buzz the past couple years with an incredible 2011 demo and an even better 2012 EP, and their debut album “Sky Swallower” is finally here. And it’s the best heavy metal album of the year (so far).
While black metal is known mostly for shrieked vocals, vocalist Nick Thornbury adopts the growled vocal stylings of Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, which really seals in the sludge metal goodness. “Sky Swallower” is also a fairly high quality recording, which really separates it from the albums of artists like Burzum and Paysage D’Hiver. But “Sky Swallower” wouldn’t be so amazing if it were just your average black metal album. There’s also solemn, atmospheric guitar interludes that lead into the insanity, which recalls memories of groups like Agalloch and Isis. There’s even a little bit of Godspeed You! Black Emperor influence within this album.
Lyrically, I haven’t quite deciphered exactly what’s going on. I can’t say with full confidence that it’s adopted some of the lyrical themes of Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s “transcendental black metal” proposal/manifesto, but there definitely seems to be some sort of spiritual theme on this record. If anyone happens to know any of the lyrics I’d be glad to read what they are. Either way, everything on “Sky Swallower” sound magnificent. If I did have one minuscule complaint, it’d be that “Sky Swallower” needs to be a little bit longer. It barely reaches the 40-minute mark, and I would definitely be down for 60 minutes of Vattnet Viskar. Then again, the length makes it feel like one composition with several movements, including the lonesome guitar interludes.
“Sky Swallower” isn’t quite your average black metal album because it’s way better than your average black metal album. It’s heavy, complex, gigantic, and worthy of goosebumps. It’s sort of like the dark side of Deafheaven’s slightly-less-excellent “Sunbather” album. They could be like half-brothers or something. If you enjoy Swans, Neurosis, Agalloch, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Isis, Wolves In The Throne Room, or really any sort of dark, destructive form of heavy metal, then “Sky Swallower” should absolutely be on your must list, because you will not hear anything like it this year.
GRADE – 9.7
FAVORITE TRACKS – New Alchemy, Fog Of Apathy, Monarch, Breath of the Almighty, Mythos, Apex
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