Det Framlidna Minnet by bergravenRelease date: March 8, 2019
Label: Nordvis Productions
When Bergraven last appeared on the scene, the world was a different place. First of all, Hydra Head Records was still a thing and, riding on the crest of Isis-mania (before that was a very bad thing), were willing to take even more risks than usual, which may have explained how a skewed, jazzy sojourn into blackened misery like Dödsvisioner (and its successor Till Makabert Väsen) ended up reaching such a wide audience. Since then, Pär Stille has been working on the more straightforward Stilla with cohorts Andreas Johansson and Johan Marklund, both of whom can now be considered part of the family and thus at least partly responsible for the sprawling chaos of their first album in 9 years.
While Det Framlidna Minnet (or The Lost Memory, for those non-Swedes out there) could be considered the successor to Bergraven’s noughties output, it would be much more accurate to call it its brooding, reclusive cousin. First off, this is not a black metal album. Though that tag was one that never sat quite right with Stille, there were always enough similarities with that sound (and in particular that of like-minded countrymen Shining) that it could be kept tethered to the scene. The soaring tremolo passages and omnipresent blastbeats remain but on the whole, it has the structure and unpredictable worldview of a jazz album, albeit a uniquely deranged one. Delicate passages of medieval guitar underpin frostbitten blasts, muttered rants give way to howls of what might be desperation and might be plain old madness and flourishes of sax and flute abound, meaning it’s never quite possible to gain a foothold on just what is unfolding.
The net result is an atmosphere that eschews the solitary gloom of past works in favour of a gradually unfurling chaos, an immersive descent into something that isn’t quite madness but more the uncanniness of losing a grasp on what should be concrete absolutes. Given the album’s focus on memory, and in particular what happens when those memories can no longer be trusted, the effect is deeply unsettling. ‘Den Dödes Stigar’ achieves it by launching into the album’s most epic riffing, a life-affirming surge of tremolo and glory that drops into silence before delivering a lurching, doom-laden assault that doesn’t so much sweep the rug from under the feet than it does replace the floorboards with offal; on the other hand, ‘Den Föjlsamma Plågan’ simply bombards the senses with every tone at hand, meaning that the medieval and jazz strains often find themselves dancing together in tornadoes of bitter loss.
What Det Framlidna Minnet does achieve, and quite effortlessly, is that it feels intuitive. When metal relies on the avant-garde to make an impact, the results are usually obvious, stressing overly-cerebral shifts in timing and tempo to cater to the highbrow crowd, but with Bergraven a flow between extremes that could sometimes be deemed absurd is executed with poise and the peculiar logic of the lost. It veers and reels like an opiate-fueled madman, but a tangible musical logic holds it all together. The interplay between Marklund and Johansson in particular demonstrates how well they have managed to tap into Stille’s unorthodox sense of progression, able to weave off-kilter melodies and countermelodies with a finesse that echoes Bergraven when it was a solo entity and even manages to be fiendishly catchy most of the time.
The ultimate question with releases like this is, “Was it worth the wait?” Well, that’s a yes, without a question. Just as Fleurety and Dødheimsgard have, in recent years, come back to deliver full-lengths that both celebrated their legacies and dared to push their experimental agendas to absurd conclusions, so too have Bergraven managed to capture the darkness and despair of the past but bring it to the fore with moments of free-wheeling brilliance. Not black metal, not jazz, not rock – just a carousel of lunacy that never stops spinning, and one that you’ll never want to get off.