Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bergraven - Till makabert väsen (Hydra Head, 2009)

Those with a predilection for pigeonholing oughta be pretty upset with the new Bergraven album. There aren't convenient tags to affix to music this rambling and overgrown. While Till makabert väsen (Swedish for "The Macabre Essence") is primarily the product of one man, Sweden's Pär Gustafsson, Bergraven shares little with Scandinavia's manifold black metal agoraphobes, or such U.S. peers in loneliness as Leviathan and Xasthur. Instead, the album shoots out criss-crossing tentacles of liquid guitar and bass, blackened rock riffage and some of the more disturbing vocals I've ever heard on a metal record. 


There's a whole lot of beautiful ugliness on Till makabert väsen. Gustafsson lets his overlapping clean guitars gnarl and then hang in non-resolution, often with just a laconic drumbeat as accompaniment to trump up the dissonance. The delicate guitarwork that opens "Fasa" sounds like tendrils of ivy, sprouting upwards and bending at awkward angles. Maybe they sense the diamond-hard distortion that's about to lop 'em off. "Hunger" and "Det Andra Liket" blaze with Opethian prog riffs, but they're stunted -- at any moment, the loudness could drop out completely, only to reappear a couple minutes later, just as unexpected. Gustafsson's great strength is his fucked-up sense of song construction. These songs eat themselves and then shit themselves out in neverending cycles. 


Speaking of auto-coprophagia, Gustafsson must have gargled poo before he recorded the Swedish-language vocals on this album. He sounds frightening the whole way through. Gustafsson's got a conversational growl, like he's forgotten how to speak without croaking, or he's perpetually in that space between anger and murderous rage. It's pretty jarring to hear such harsh Swedish syllables uttered over the calm passages and slide guitars of "Jag Lever Djävul," but it's all part of Bergraven's totally off vibe. With its combination of density and emptiness, dissonance and gnarled beauty, Till makabert väsen is probably the most unique metal album I've heard this year so far. 

Lucky you: stream the whole album right here

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3 - only $6.93!)


atanamar said...

Excellent review. It takes a pair to even try to review this album. I've been listening to it for a while, and I haven't the slightest idea what to say about it.
I loved Dödsvisioner, but this new one is so far off the map I just don't know what to think.
I guess one problem is that I have no idea what he's saying. It's one thing when a band is screaming incoherently in another language (let's take Enslaved's Mardraum as an example). But when the guy is speaking in a "conversational growl," as you say, you kind of want to know what he's saying. He could be saying all manner of embarrassing or ridiculous things.

Etan said...

The fact that I don't speak Swedish actually made me love the album even more, because it forces recognition of how expressive he is as a vocalist. Don't matter if he's screaming about his burnt toast -- you feel how broken up he is about it. Though some of his growlings are so over the top that it feels almost voyeuristic to listen to, like you're hearing one side of a terrible argument that he's having over the phone.

Anonymous said...

Great review! Bergraven is very good music, totally overlooked.