Svartsot - Mulmets viser 3/5
3. Havfruens kvaed
4. Højen på glødende paele
5. På odden af hans hedenske svaerd
6. Laster og tarv
7. Den svarte sot
8. Kromandens datter
12. I Salens varme glød
You see this sort of thing happen every once in a while, a single band member ousting all of his colleagues in the name of preserving the band’s original style and ideals, while the departing musicians claim to be escaping from creative totalitarianism. Listening to Svartsot’s 2nd CD, ‘Mulmets viser’, it is hard to see past surviving guitarist Cris Frederiksen’s stance, since the style is so consistent with 2007’s debut CD that you have to wonder exactly what the rest of the band had in mind.
Sticking to his guns despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered is to Frederiksen’s credit, but perhaps he has been to ardent in maintaining the reformed band’s style since some of the music feels almost too familiar even at this early stage in Svartsot’s career.
Their admirably heavy approach to folk metal remains a bit of a breather in a scene that has become exponentially cluttered since they released their first CD, and new vocalist Thor Bager’s low-pitched grunts are no less menacing than those of his predecessor. The clean vocals Frederiksen toyed with adding to the mix in pre-production have not materialised, but Bager is a slightly more versatile frontman anyway and he punctuates his grunting with high, blackened shrieks with a bit more regularity than Claus Gnudtzmann did.
The chief complaint I had with ‘Ravenes saga’ was that, for all the likeably heavy riffs and captivating melodies, the whistles used as light accompaniment often proved to be too repetitive and unessential to the songs for their own good. To their credit, Svartsot seem to have taken some steps to repairing this flaw, but it remains a nagging annoyance that still holds them back somewhat. With Stuart Lewis – the only band member to survive the purge in 2008 – still on an extended leave of absence for familial problems, his stand-in Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen (phew!) has taken his place in the studio too, and brings a few more folk instruments to the fold.
This adds a bit more variety, but the whistle remains the front-and-centre traditional instrument and still falls into the same old trap of following the guitar lines too closely. He does manage to inject some variety though, and the subtle use of the accordion on “På odden af hans hedenske svaerd” adds extra layers to the song and provides a nice break from the piercing woodwind sounds. The accordion is also used more noticeably on “Grendel”, which is a bit of an enjoyable oddball anyway, a short piece with an unusual melody and vocals that wouldn’t sound too far out of place on a Finntroll CD.
The overall approach is maybe a shade more jovial than that it was on the debut – perhaps tellingly, the cover artwork presents what looks like a drunk wizard showing off rather than Hugin and Munin’s more stern presence – with a few jauntier songs present this time round. In this regard, the whistle use isn’t all bad news, and when utilised more creatively it adds a special brightness to the songs that would be absent otherwise. Of particular note is the bridge on “Havfruens kvaed” where the guitars step back to the role thudding out thick, simple chords to allow Hansen to lead the listener on a merry dance over a backdrop of jangling mandolins (which is probably a better prospect than I have made it sound, to be honest).
The limitations on ‘Mulmets viser’ may simply stem from Svartsot playing it too safe and trying to reassure their audience that it’s business as usual despite the massive line-up overhaul – they have retained their sound admirably, but maybe at the expense of some inventiveness. Perhaps the mooted notion of adding some occasional clean vocals to the songs would liven things up a bit, and they still need to work on integrating the folk instrumentation more smoothly into the songs, but they aren’t too far away from climbing a rung or 2.
They have ultimately failed to top their debut and in fact have taken a small step back, but there is still enough good music on this CD to suggest that with everyone now pulling in the same direction Svartsot can move upwards from here. If this is the ubiquitous ‘difficult’ 2nd CD, the 3rd may well be sink or swim time for them, but they certainly have enough in their arsenal to make a good fight of it.
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