On the 23rd of March, the Norwegian band Djevel has released through the old trusty Aftermath Music its 5th opus titled Blant Svarte Graner (Among Black Grains). The whole concept of the album is based upon the Black Death which silently swept through Europe between 1347 and 1351, wiping out almost half if of its population.
This latest record is a quintessence of all the previous band’s releases, compiling all the (good) elements the band composed before and giving them a full grown and complete shape. I would say that with this album the band has reached a new level, a level of complete maturity and skillfulness.
Several line up changes have taken place last year, changes which helped a lot to this improvement (and progress, after all). The first good thing that happened was Mannevond taking care of the vocal parts (after all he’s been the main growler in Koldbrann since 2001), his harsh, barking voice suiting better Djevel‘s purposes than the former singer Erlend Hjelvik (Kvelertak).
“Hunter of silence
Wary thine eye
In the dark”.
Who would have thought that in 2017 Ulf Theodor Schwadorf will bring Sun of the Sleepless back from the dark slumber in which it fell in 2004 and will return with their first full length in 18 years of bizarre existence? I was more than hyped when I saw that on the 21 st of July the band has released via Lupus Lounge “To The Elements“, a collection of 7 songs which bear the trade mark of their talented creator.
What we have here is a black metal album dedicated to nature and the creatures that inhabit it. With 2 exceptions, The Burden and the interlude Forest Crown, the rest of the songs are long, atmospheric and harsh. The overall atmosphere reminds me a lot of the lost, forgotten sad spirit of the nineties, when bands like Ulver (early period), Forgotten Woods, Burzum, Emperor and Darkthrone created their masterpieces which are so influential even to this day.
This album starts with a cover of a Lorenna McKennitt song, The Burden, which, after 3 minutes quickly gives in to Motions, revealing the true nature of the beast. To the Elements is a superbly crafted album, highly atmospheric and very gloomy. If you are expecting influences from the other bands Schwadorf plays in, well, they are there, but do not interfere with the general concept of the album at all.
The third track, The Owl, (the only one which has a video so far) starts with its acoustic slow intro and soft spoken voices, erupting minutes later into a frenzy of riffs and blast beats. As the name implies, the song is dedicated to this mystical and often cursed bird, one of the best predators which ever lived in the animal kingdom. Schwadorf‘s voice fits perfectly the atmosphere, his grave, harsh tone providing the songs a much deserved weight. He’s backed up by some majestic choirs, while all the blast beats and the icy riffs tear through the acoustic veil like a sharp blade.
The 4th track, Where in my Childhood Lived a Witch is amazing and if I didn’t like the whole album as much as I do, I would have considered it my favorite song. Perhaps the longest track of the album, with over 8 minutes, this song is the scariest for sure. It starts off in a mid paced rhythm, with great double bass drumming and shredding riffs. In the background some keyboards add a frightening echo to the story. After you think you got used to the song, it suddenly changes rhythm and goes into a cavalcade of riffs and blast beats which last till the end. A powerful song, which is a gem even when it’s played live. This continuous balance between the atmospheric and the violent parts of the songs is what makes To the Elements such an outstanding album.
To calm down the pace a bit after such an intense tempo, Forest Crown is used as a small comforting interlude, with its acoustic guitars and warm vocals. You can actually imagine the vast forest, softly speaking to you when the wind blows through its trees. A beautiful song, smartly inserted at the right time between the longer songs.
The next two tracks, In the Realm of the Bark and Phoenix Rise are the perfect choice to end this beautiful album. The melancholic choirs on Phoenix Rising are beautiful and whenever I play that song I have the impression I am flying over the vast forest.
Overall, what Schwadorf did with To the Elements was basically to create a collection of hymns in which the nature, the old legends and the mystical animals play the main role. A piece of modern art which celebrates both the past and the present and teaches us to cherish and preserve what we still have, until it’s too late.
To the Elements is definitely one of the best and most beautiful albums of this year, a jewel of black metal crafted in the depth of the woods.
This album also proves that you don’t have to be overtly satanic to release a good black metal album in 2017. All you need is the “soul” and the inspiration, the rest will come by default. To match with the music, the band came up with a brilliant album cover which links this new album with the glorious past of the 1990’s.
The version I reviewed here is the limited black LP (350 copies), which comes on a heavy 180g vinyl, with a special vinyl mastering. The gatefold is simple but efficient, leaving the music to speak for itself.Grab your own copy before it’s too late, this album is a must have for all those who appreciated the spirit of the 1990’s and the “romantic” side of black metal.
Also, if you want to witness how Sun of the Sleepless sounds live, you can watch the full concert the band played at the Prophecy Fest earlier this year. This second ever performance is really impressive and there were many songs from To the Elements which were played that night,together with some old tracks from the past.
Total score: 10 owls out of 10
Sun of the Sleepless line up:
Schwadorf – all instruments
To the Elements track list:
1. The Burden
3. The Owl
4. Where in My Childhood Lived a Witch
5. Forest Crown
6. The Realm of the Bark
7. Phoenix Rise