Svartsot - Maledictus eris 3.5/5
2. Gud giv det varer ved!
4. Farsoten kom
5. Holdt ned af en tjørn
6. Den forgængelige tro
7. Om jeg lever kveg
8. Kunsten at dø
9. Den nidske gud
11. Og Landet ligger så øde hen
Svartost’s 2nd CD ‘Mulmets viser’ was one that took very few risks and stayed as close to the beaten path as possible. It was an understandable move since guitarist Cris Frederiksen was the only member to survive the transition from their 2007 debut CD, and reassuring people that he could indeed maintain Svartsot as the same band with an entirely new bunch of musicians around him no doubt played on his mind.
It wasn’t a bad CD, but it was definitely the sound of a band standing still and the negative aspects heard on their debut were magnified to the point of becoming a serious annoyance. The most manifest of these issues – and this is something I have probably banged on about too much over the course of 3 reviews – was the overuse of whistles to provide the “folk” half of their folk metal equation. Overused and underdeveloped as an unimaginative foil for the lead guitar, the shrill whistling on occasion became nothing short of maddening, and it was the one thing I was hoping and praying would be sorted out for the follow-up CD.
Thankfully, it has come to pass, and multi-instrumentalist Hans-Jørgen Martinus Hansen – underutilised on his debut with the band – gets to show off his aptitude with a greater variety of traditional instruments, including tastefully understated bagpipes, as Svartsot expand the range and refine the arrangements of their songs somewhat. ‘Maledictus eris’ is not a great departure for them, but it shows the new line-up (minus already departed rhythm guitarist Cliff Nemanim) being a little bolder and taking more care not become a one-trick pony. Less upbeat, yet at the same time overall less heavy, it will probably appeal less to fans of jigging Finnish-style folk metal and has a slightly more serious tone than its predecessors.
The whistle parts aren’t gone entirety and remain an important part of Svartsot’s music, but a combination of using them more conservatively and doing a more thorough job of making them part of the song rather than simply layering them over the top reduces the annoyance factor massively. Greater care has gone into the arrangements all round in fact, and ‘Maledictus eris’ is easily the most densely-layered CD in the band’s career to date.
In what is either a clever bit of rug-pulling or my imagination running wild, the opening track proper “Gud giv det varer ved!” is a more ‘typical’ Svartost party-style song, brought to an abrupt close by the sound of violent coughing as the lyrics (still in Danish) no doubt herald the arrival of the black plague that makes up the CD’s story, and from this point onwards the music and mood are more often grounded in the new, serious style.
Not quite as heavy as its forebears, it nonetheless remains resolutely uncommercial, the guitars still rock-hard and Thor Bager sticking almost without fail to thunderous roars and occasional stabs of strangled shrieking. The vocal approach is to be honest an area that could still use a little work – guttural death growls naturally work best when meshed with equally aggressive music, and while Svartsot are markedly heavier than most modern folk metal bands, in their lighter moments the singing style sounds as though it is limiting their potential. The acoustic track “Spigrene” shows a surprisingly placid side to Bager, his singing voice emotive and resonant, and, without asking for a catchy chorus to be shoehorned into every song, it would be nice in future to hear it sprinkled throughout a full CD rather than being restricted to just one outing.
For all the strides forward - some significant, some marginal – that it exhibits, ‘Maledictus eris’ still isn’t the great CD Svartsot suggested they might one day make, but after steadying the ship last year after the sundering of the line-up they have taken a more confident stride forward here. It comes recommended, but the nagging feeling that the vital spark separating top from mid-table is missing still lingers. At the very least they now have some forward momentum on their side and the stability needed to continue the pursuit of improvement.
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