|Solstorm's debut carries a stylised bleakness and depressing atmosphere which pervades both harder and softer passages.|
|This is something of a rarity: Norwegian Post-Metal being, at an educated guess, a genre comprising just the one band - Solstorm, from Bergen. Formed in 2009 by experienced musicians drawn from Death and Black Metal backgrounds, this 2011 debut album represents in large part a reworking of the first self-released EP, themed around apocalypse and destruction. As a summary of intent, perhaps the best option is to quote the band's MySpace page, which proclaims: 'The end is extremely fucking nigh'.
Setting out to prove that are three guitarists, a bassist who also handles vocals and a drummer: no synths, extraneous instruments or other frills besides a few samples. Well, those, and an impressively extensive selection of effects pedals (for confirmation of just how extensive, feel free to view it here). For budgetary reasons, and because they could, all recording and mixing duties were carried out in-house and the results packaged for release as a limited digipack available through Duplicate. It's a good effort, too: very crisp and clean, with the layers of sonic texture so essential to the style of music given plenty of body and depth.
It's also polished compositionally, as might be expected from tracks that have been around for a while, undergoing refinement and rework towards their evolutionary peak. Instrumental and vocal sections, changes of tempo and rhythm, musical shifts all flow together in well-managed, almost organic, transitions. The musicianship is excellent – impressive from the start as to the scope of what the guitars can achieve, while the clearly-audible drums and bass contribute a solid, anchoring backbone for those sounds to wind around. And while it is often loud, in that surging wall-of-guitar way one might expect, it also carries a stylised bleakness and depressing atmosphere which pervades both harder and softer passages.
It is that atmosphere which qualifies it under the Doom banner, rather than the more general Post-Metal heading, despite the promotional flyer description of: "Think Neurosis and Cult Of Luna at their heaviest for some kind of reference". Actually, I would consider reference to Neurosis to be a little misleading: there is none of the edgy, aggressive, instrument-pounding mayhem that they brought to the party – what there is, though, is plenty of Cult Of Luna, even down to an almost identical (and by now somewhat cliched) hoarsely shouting/screaming vocal style.
Leaving aside the two short 'Art Of...' pieces bracketing the main body of the album, which serve as a symmetrical intro/outro combination, the remainder is a presumably conceptually-linked series of five longer tracks detailing the presumed end of the world. First of these is 'The Sun Will Appear From The West' (one of the signs, according to some Islamic texts, that judgement day is nigh), which mixes up heavy riffing with gentler atmospherics and an overlaid sample that sounds like an imam quoting those very texts. 'On This Barren Rock' follows in more consistently thunderous vein, like an urgent prologue to the long and moody centrepiece of 'Manhattan Mass', an oblique reference to the Manhattan Project's development of the hydrogen bomb. The slow-burning, gloomy instrumental second part of this track is, to me, the highlight of the album, before it moves on to the more loping riff-heaviness of 'The Carrington Event' - the largest solar flare, at the height of the largest geomagnetic solar storm, on record. In this case, it's a little misrepresented as an extinction event rather than a good lightshow, as it leads into the portentous, crashing 'Exhumation'.
So, to add to the general good points previously mentioned, it's also covering some intelligent ground in a coherent and consistent framework. It's almost a shame to follow that by dragging in what has probably already been telegraphed as a fairly hefty "But...", which is that I really don't like it very much.
To be fair, that's partly a general thing: I'm not overfond of Post- genres at the best of times. Not that I have anything against wall of noise type sonic explorations, I just prefer them in the rougher and readier Space/Psych/Indie/Shoegaze incarnations of the 70s and 80s. More recent takes on the subject, heavy on musical virtuosity and modern technologies, run the risk of sounding almost too sterile and perfectly-orchestrated, with experimental aspects that are the product of careful, deliberate craft rather than pioneering boundary-pushing. That, I think, is what leaves me cold where Solstorm is concerned. It's the most polite of apocalypses, courteously arriving with every note already in place and every dramatic gesture predetermined, sound and fury driven by ordained precision rather than the swirling madness of chaos. And mostly it makes me think that if I need a louder-than-Armageddon soundtrack for the end of the world, I've already got plenty of Loop albums.
That, of course, is just my opinion. It shouldn't detract from the technical merits of the album, which are admittedly many, or stop Cult Of Luna fans from paying attention to a mighty competent talent arriving in that particular neck of the woods. If it's your kind of thing, you won't be disappointed.
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1. Art Of Creation
2. The Sun Will Appear From The West
3. On This Barren Rock
4. Manhattan Mass
5. The Carrington Event
7. Art Of Destruction
Duration : Approx. 45 minutes
Visit the Solstorm bandpage.