Nàttsòl - _Stemning_
(Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (8 out of 10)
Why am I so nostalgic these days? I have no idea. Is it because my early 30s are going / have gone so fast that each attempt to slow down time with forced pulses of reflection and introspection only leads to the pushing away of the past further and further away? Well, luckily, every so often I stumble across an album or two that serve as the ultimate aides de memoir -- that is, temporarily bringing back those amazing feelings, when (in this instance) black metal was something fresh and new, and not cliché, hackneyed. Anyways, here we go with a brief aside in terms of a nostalgic prelude to start this review of _Stemning_, the debut album from western Norway's Nàttsòl. If you don't like it, though, just skip over it.

When I bought my copy of Ulver's mighty _Bergtatt: Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler_ back in October of 1995 (the release was really delayed in reaching Canada, I know), I was absolutely floored. This album, to me, managed to exude such a distinctive "Norwegian" atmosphere -- both in terms of the album's artwork, layout and, of course, the songs -- that I couldn't stop listening to it everyday for months on end. Still, to this day, that album ranks as one of my top 10 all-time favourites. The interplay between harsh, frenetic black metal riffs, Garm's melodic and soaring vocal lines, and the highly distinctive acoustic guitar work and flute was unparalleled at that time. Well, maybe there were a couple of exceptions: the first Borknagar album for one; and, maybe the second Abigor EP, _Orkblut_ (although this didn't feature any clean vocals of any sort as we all know).

Anyways, from the very first note on _Stemning_ (which means "mood" in Norwegian) I was brought right back to fall of 1995. Why, you might ask? Well, this album absolutely smacks of the first and best releases from bands such as Ulver, Borknagar, and Taake -- from the artwork and packaging to the long songs punctuated with acoustic breaks, and, perhaps most obviously, the use of clean vocals (which sound almost like _Bergtatt_-era Garm, complete with the audible inhalations, exhalations and whispers). Some people might actually have a problem with this, and thus their reaction could be characterised by a statement like "yeah, yeah, I've heard this a thousand times before; and, by the way, hasn't black metal changed since the early to mid 1990s?" Well, my rejoinder to a statement like this would be: "Yes, it's changed, and yes, this specific approach to black metal has indeed been done a thousand times; but has it been done this good, and this 'true' to the old way of doing things". Based on my subjective experience and assessment, I can only answer with a cool, "no".

So, on to the music then. We've got a top-notch production here that enables all of the instruments to be heard as they should. The drumming is good, with quite a lot of blasts and splashes of double-bass, and some really fast cymbal work -- you'll see what I mean. There's nothing here in terms of new techniques in extreme metal drumming or anything, but it's solid nonetheless. The guitar playing is solid, too; and there's some memorable and not-so-memorable black metal riffage on display here. The acoustic interludes -- of which there are many -- are really what makes this album amazing for me, though. The playing ability of the guitar players may not be as adept as Haavard or Aismal from Ulver, but it's still effective in creating a distinctive Norwegian atmosphere. Listening to these acoustic interludes makes me think of being up on Mt. Fløyen in Bergen. Now, the dead give away here in terms of the fact that _Stemning_ is an ode to the first Ulver album -- in particular -- is the flute playing. Wow, sure, this might be seen as a blatant rip off, and I wouldn't entirely disagree, but it just works so well that I can't be too harsh here. Plus, the flute makes an appearance in only one song -- the last song, "Ved Hav I Avdagsleitet" -- and it's accompanied by female vocals, unlike _Bergtatt_.

Now, for all the nostalgia this album brought me, there are some downsides. 1) There's something irritating about the "harsh" vocals. I don't know what it is, but perhaps its because their a little screechy in spots. They are pretty varied, and this is a good thing, but there are some areas here and there throughout the album that just make me wonder if a different approach may have been better. It's not a huge downside, but once this becomes apparent, it's hard to not let it distract you. 2) I really didn't like the way the album ends. The last song is great and all, but, just seems to sort of terminate out of nowhere. And after it ended, I was expecting more -- like either a conclusive part, or either song. I had to look down at my iPod twice to make sure the album was actually done. And when it was, I just sort of muttered, "huh... that's weird", to myself. 3) Some of the more black metal sounding riffs sound like filler to me. Yes, there are some fantastic displays of black aggression here; but some of the riffs could have been better crafted, I think.

By way of conclusion, then, I think _Stemning_ is a solid effort in terms of paying homage to the old greats of the early to mid 1990s; and I think the album was indeed successful in creating a "mood" -- and a nostalgic one at that. However, there are some hang-ups (mentioned above), which sort of drag it down just a little bit for me. I just read that one of their guitar players has decided to leave the band, but luckily they will be continuing as a two-piece from now on. All I can say is that the talent is there, as well as the passion and skill to re-create those old seemingly long-forgotten atmospheres; but let's just hope the next Nàttsòl album will be a little more concentrated in terms of potent riffs and better vocals.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/nattsolnorway

(article published 10/10/2010)

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