Bergraven — Det framlidna minnet, Review’d
How much adventurous black metal can you fit inside you?
Det framlidna minnet is a lot to take in. Luckily for everyone, Bergraven hasn’t released anything in a full decade, so we’ve all had more than enough time to make room somewhere in our bodies to receive this new album’s girthful bounty. I don’t know about you, but for my part, after snacking coquettishly from a buffet of shorter, simpler black metal from the first weeks of 2019, I’m ready to bite off more than I can chew.
I can sense that you are ready too. But first, let me whet your palates with a list of some of the unorthodoxies and blasphemies you’ll find on this most idiosyncratic of black metal records:
Slide Guitar ✔️
Vibraphone (or possibly Mellotron?) ✔️
Electronic Voice Phenomenon (which is totally a real thing) ✔️
All whet now? Good. Me too. Although admittedly I was nervous at first. Ten years between releases is easily enough time for even the greatest of artists to lose the plot. Plus, 2009’s Til Makabert Vasen was nearly perfect, seemingly leaving nowhere higher for Bergraven to climb. My anxiety was somewhat validated by Det framlidna minnet‘s intro, titled “Intro”, an unstructured jam session between wonky guitars and drums. It sounds like the musicians warming up in the studio — and nobody but nobody has time for that. Happily, this is the only misstep on the album.*
Turns out all that pining and salivating I’d done between 2009 and now was not wasted. The album’s first proper song, “Allt”, brings the Bergraven and brings it hard. The music is at once familiar, harkening back to Bergravenisms of old, and yet strange, shuffling in some spices that mastermind P. Stille has never brought to the table before. A soft opening of clean guitar, nebulous ghost noises and vibraphone (Mellotron?) introduces a dreamy motif stretched out over six bars of 4/4 and one of 7/8. As the drums add intensity and the ghost voices induce pure phantasmagoria, the song bursts into some of the most ferocious and purely black metal of Bergraven’s career — relatively speaking, that is, as the riffs are still long, twisting, and broken up at unexpectable moments by quiet little arpeggios.
It is Mr. Stille’s mania for arpeggios that has always set Bergraven apart from the flock. He’s a sucker for noodling with deconstructions of weird chords at every opportunity. His technique is dissonant and jumpy, technically impressive but also supple and full of inhuman finesse; the spooky moods that he conjures from his instrument sound like music that could only be dreamed up by arachnoids from another dimension. When I first encountered Stille’s string style back in 2007 on Dödsvisioner, I was reminded of the weirdo discordance of Ved Buens Ende. Bergraven has long since eclipsed the grandeur of that band in my mind, but for the uninitiated, VBE may still be an apt reference point. (Enslaved, Opeth and even Oranssi Pazuzu might also vaguely relate — I don’t know, I don’t care about those bands.)
As ever before, the attention paid to detail on “Allt” scales all the way up to the album as a whole. Mr. Stille has always had a knack for coherence — the distinct crunch of the guitar distortion, the ghostly ambient backing atmospheres, the push and pull between introspective moments and blasts of lunatic aggression — and yet he has always found a way to try a dozen or more different bad ideas, somehow making them all sound good. On Det framlidna minnet, he pushes the emphasis on the latter to delightful extremes, perhaps nowhere more so than on “Den följsamma plågan”. The song begins with a squall of of saxophone (alto?) not unlike something you might hear from Hadean or Kayo Dot. A drunken acoustic camping song takes over for a while, with cleanish vocals, until the odd-time blackness erupts once more, quickly leveling out into a crispy groove and a twangy lead guitar melody that references Stille’s un-closeted admiration for the music of Chris Isaak. In the dead center of the song, the recording engineer sets every instrument to MAXIMUM FLANGE for a quick, woozy freakout. The squawking sax returns for a bit near the end, then we’re lulled into eerie calm by drifting, listless clean guitar and vibes. It’s a wild ride, and one that will take several spins to fully comprehend.
The same can be said for pretty much every track on the album. Even when Bergraven is trudging into doom territory with slower, more repetitive riffs, as on “Leendet av hans verk” and “Den dödes stigar”, they find a way to sneak in enough variation of texture or dynamics to effect the allure of dark drama: A miserable melodic motif introduced on piano, shifted up an octave, then picked up with embellishments by acoustic guitar before receiving the full metal jacket; a weeping guitar line stretched first over crawling beats, then all-out blasts; the bottom falling out of a song until nothing remains but sparsely plucked single notes and the creepy tinkling of chains… Elsewhere, on tracks where the riffs and time-signatures are in constant flux, we’re never far from another sax-heavy freakout, flamenco picking, or an intermission for acoustic guitar and flute. In the hands of an equally ambitious band with less innate talent, such a surplus of ideas could easily go off the rails and into oblivion. Bergraven prevails, I think, because such accoutrements are always anchored to incredibly compelling central motifs. It’s the difference between beginning with one or two great ideas and embellishing from there, or beginning with eighty ideas, paring them down to sixty, then flinging them about like paint in the hands of Jackson Pollock (that hack).
I don’t know exactly why it took ten years for this album to see the light of day. It might have something to do with the collapse of Bergraven’s previous label, Hydra Head. Maybe Stille decided to throw all of his weight behind his other band, Stilla. The curious thing is that, if I remember correctly, Stille claimed at the time of Til Makabert Vasen‘s release that he already had one or two more albums worth of material written…so basically he has been tinkering with the material for Det framlidna minnet all this time, or else just letting it collect dust. Whatever the case, there’s so much nuance and layering going on here that it definitely sounds like a full decade’s labor. I truly feared that this album would never arrive. Now that it has, I have to say that every second of the wait was worth it.
You: “Is this how it is done?”
Richter: “Yes. This is how it is done.”
You: “But how many flaming toilets?”
Richter: “Four and one half.”
*Unless you count the outro (you’ll never guess the title), which is a continuation of the intro. I do not count the outro as another misstep, though, because it actually feels like a nice comedown after the intensity of all that from which it comes down.
Det framlidna minnet will be released on March 8th by Nordvis Produktion. Formats: LP, CD and digital.