Vintersorg - _Solens Rotter_
(Napalm Records, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (9 out of 10)
Since _Cosmic Genesis_ in 2000, Vintersorg have plyed an increasingly progressive direction, steering their longships further and further away from the guiding star of folk-laced black metal in favor of the subjectively uncharted waters of more avant-garde territory. This experimentation culminated in 2004's _The Focusing Blur_, the band's finest hour (and Vintersorg's as an artist): an album which jettisoned the traditionally abrasive vocals and many of the folk elements, taking on the mantle of darkly challenging tech-metal with cosmic themes and unearthly soundscapes.

Following three years of endless toiling -- including a trio of side projects, as well as a new Borknagar album -- Vintersorg has returned with _Solens Rotter_, a virtual about-face which sees Vintersorg and his permanent band mate Mattias Marklund time traveling back to the days of _Odemarkens Son_. This is an album chock full of folk musings, gruff rumblings and, yes, even lyrics in the Swedish tongue that the band preferred in those pre-_Genesis_ days. On paper this is not what I wanted to hear. As previously mentioned, I consider _The Focusing Blur_ the apex of Vintersorg's career, and one of the shining examples of how to mix black / folk metal with forward thinking musicianship and experimental songwriting (I'd put it up against anything released by Opeth or Ulver, let's put it that way).

Fortunately, I try to steer clear of pre-release anticipation, preferring instead to wait until I have the finished product in my hand and ready for a good aural workout. I attempt to remain as openly receptive as possible, in other words, but I'm far from blindly optimistic or -- even worse -- a band apologist. I'm aware that the majority of the time musicians set off in entirely new directions, they will end up falling flat on their face; and to that extent, I think assuming everything will be great until proven otherwise is just as likely to make one overrate an album as nihilistic pessimism inevitably results in a diametrically opposite underrating of the same material.

Of course, most of us lack the Zen-like mastery necessary to completely erase the slate, but in the case of _Solens Rotter_ this isn't really necessary. For one thing, Vintersorg have always been part of that low percentage of artists that can distance themselves from a previous musical direction without embarrassing themselves; and for another, _Solens Rotter_ is decidedly not a new direction at all. I won't say it's altogether reassuring that they've abandoned the futuristic arrow of the last seven years' work -- once arrested, that kind of momentum is hard to resume later on down the line -- but it's hard to argue with the quality of the new material, in every way superior to the '90s era of the band that it attempts to regenerate.

As black metal has always been a mere one element among many in Vintersorg's bouillabaisse of influences, they've never benefited from ad hoc arrangements or roughed up production values; everything with this band is carefully mapped in detail-rich tapestries, and requires a corresponding volume of space to fill for ideal presentation. _Solens Rotter_ sports the cleanest sound they've been afforded yet, and though it lacks the full scope of adventure and dense grace notes of _Blur_, the band make exhilarating use of this canvas in the course of updating / upgrading their old style.

No longer hamstrung by percussive limitations, Vintersorg make able use of session drummer Johan Lindgren to lay a base for a more technical exploration of the dark folk idiom they helped to invent a decade ago. The tribal interlude in "Idetemplet" punctuates the inventiveness of the song's arrangement without overstaying its welcome or wallowing in fantasy metal cheese (i.e. my mind's eye conjures up an image of a bonfire deep in the woods, but not necessarily elves dancing jigs around the fucking thing). The intro to "Dopt I En Jokelsjo" evokes Fairport Convention wedded to the chops-laden virtuosity of quieter Rush or Dream Theater moments. "Stralar" focuses almost exclusively on regional folk influences, with electric guitar offering intermittent punctuation, but mostly excusing itself altogether.

In fact, it's not until repeated listenings that it becomes apparent that the black metal influences of the band's youth are (while featuring prominently in songs as otherwise varied as "Fran Materia Till Ande" and "Perfektionisten") largely subjugated to background roles, with the folk and -- yes -- world music influences bearing the lion's share of the spotlight. In truth, while the avant-garde explorations of prior albums have been dropped in favor of relatively more traditional arrangements, the progressive tendencies evinced on previous efforts are as much of a factor on _Solens Rotter_ as ever.

Though we often say that an album benefits from repeated exposures, too often what we're really saying is that it just doesn't suck quite as bad when the listener has had a chance to pick through the morass of half-assed songwriting to salvage whatever subtleties are worth hanging onto. _Solens Rotter_ is a great counter-example of how, if only at times, the tabula rasa approach to evaluating a work is capable of coming up aces.

Contact: http://www.vintersorganic.com

(article published 20/4/2007)


CHATS
10/5/2007 J Ulrey Vintersorg: An Extension of Theories
ALBUMS
3/21/2003 A Lineker 8 Vintersorg - Visions From the Spiral Generator
GIGS
1/14/2002 D Rocher Tristania / Rotting Christ / Vintersorg / Madder Mortem A Night to Remember, a Bill to Forget
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