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Shadows above the blazing pyre. - 80%

hells_unicorn, November 6th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Mighty Music (cardboard gatefold)

The last several years have seen a rather sizable output of high quality atmospheric black metal albums that have pushed the envelope in terms of the definition of the same style that goes back to the primordial days of Venom's early output. Among some of the more auspicious trailblazers in this department have been the one-man Australian outfit Midnight Odyssey and Spanish newcomers Perennial Isolation, both taking highly unconventional approaches to contemplating both nature and the cosmos, drawing upon a variety of ambient, post-rock and symphonic elements and essentially going off into their own respective worlds in the process. While largely conforming to this otherworldly paradigm, the Danish outfit Solbrud takes a very different approach and, despite generally coming off as more atmospheric in the present sense, has a greater degree of traditionalism that hearkens back just a bit closer to the 1990s, and their sophomore effort Jaertegn finds a slightly stronger degree of this older school vibe shaping its sound than not.

Insofar as this style goes with all its extravagantly long and slow developing individual compositions, this album does manage to maintain a degree of accessibility relative to some other bands in this style while still having that sense of droning and gradual unfolding tied in. Nothing comes in under the nine minute mark, and the melodic contours of both the quiet and distorted sections definitely tilts towards minimalism. Much of the time the style is heavily similar to the mid-90s output of Darkthrone, consisting of streaming tremolo chords and largely continuous blast beats, but also with a more polished and punchy production that gives it a bit of an Emperor feel, though it lacks the massive keyboards and crackling guitar characteristics of said bands early output. Recurring clean guitar parts and occasional distant sounding vocal chants give things a slight bit of an ambient character here and there, but the vast majority of this album is spent in harsh territory, and the vocals largely stick to a garbled shriek that has been typical of the style since Mayhem began moving it away from its thrash metal roots.

It should be stressed that while the amount of innovation that occurs on this album is relatively small, the overall quality of presentation is on point, and even comes off a bit better than some of the more obscure atmospheric bands out there with a fair degree of post-rock detailing to their formula. The use of repetition, while at first appearing a bit gratuitous to anyone with a limited experience with this subset of black metal, is not overdone despite the band limiting themselves to a more traditional instrumentation, and there are several points where things get fairly ambitious, particularly on the massive third track "Klippemennesket", which takes on the greatest degree of layered parts and also comes the closest to being a present day homage to the pitch black brilliance that was established on In The Nighside Eclipse. It has a surreal and abstract character to it despite its generally simple demeanor, and it manages to be the most memorable of the four songs on here despite having the most moving parts.

While an album like this tends to be more of an acquired taste, as is generally true with this style, this album would likely serve as a good introduction to the atmospheric variant of the style in that it embodies that sort of ironic blend of stillness and chaos that comes from mixing minimalism with generally fast and frenzied riffs and beats. Sometimes bands will purposefully break things up into smaller pieces and end up with something that listens well as a whole album but is a bit choppy, while other bands will go well over 20 minutes on an individual song and throw every trick in the book at the listener (this was done successfully just recently by Midnight Odyssey), but in Jaertegn we have a fairly easy to follow middle ground where things are largely moderated. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to mistake this album for a throwback to the latter days of the second wave, though it has a number of aesthetic trappings that put it closer to the present scene, and this album will probably prove a nice cache within the vast sea of underground, atmospheric treasure.

Solbrud - Jærtegn - 95%

The_Black_Goldfish, September 17th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, 12" vinyl, Mighty Music (Limited edition, Gatefold)

I have been following my fellow countrymen Solbrud for some time now, from their upcoming from the Danish underground scene, to national fame (Including an award and concerts at major festivals Copenhell and Roskilde). I was very pleased with their first offering and self-titled debut, and even more pleased when they announced their second album, "Jærtegn".

The music itself is atmospheric black metal, albeit with some melodic clean segments. Most of the songs are a wall of mournful fast riffing, and a blaze of drums and bass. Considering the genre and a lot of other bands who've played something similar, this album still manage to sound original. The clean-breaks are refreshing, as if you've reached the center of a terrible thunderstorm. Even the drums show creativity with some great fills and some pounding and slow double-bass pedaling. Basically, it's their own take and own mindscape that we dive into. The lyrics tell of the nature, death, solitude and hardships, all in their native Danish. This is a good choice. While the language may limit them from international fame, the music certainly does not, and that might be their greatest asset.

Compared to their first album, Solbrud haven't showed any signs of slowing down, and have tapped their true concentrated potential onto this record. The vocals have gotten better, now being reminiscent of some of Ihsahn's screams. The bass is rumbling on, clear and audible, the drums are relentless and shows no signs of fatigue. Both guitars are distinguishable and yet unified in their majestic riffs, showing clear progression from their first album. Also, I've detected some, dare I say, unorthodox (at least for black metal) use, of guitar effects (Is that a Whammy I hear?). The addition of the recorded atmospheric part at the end of "Klippemennesket" is very welcome and adds a lot to an already atmospheric song. Basically, it's just fire crackling, forest sounds, hammers hitting something and an eerie choir. But it does wonders for the mood, before fading into the last track of drum and guitar hurricane.

Solbrud has come far in a few years, and will continue to go forth if they keep up this pace. I know that this is one of the best albums I've heard this year, and I eagerly await their next album

This album and band comes highly recommended to fans of Wolves in the Throne Room, Altar of Plagues, Taake and Ulver.