Album Review: Ølten – “Mode”

olten mode cover

The cover of Ølten‘s terrific new album, Mode, couldn’t be more misleading if it tried. It’s a neat shot, but it’s certainly not the kind of image you’d expect from a band whose website describes them simply as “a Swiss heavy rock porn sludge instrumental trio” that “play loud.” Yes, they did sneak “porn” in there, and no, we don’t quite get it either—but that single word aside, the statement more or less hits the nail on the head. Mode is abundantly heavy and best enjoyed very loud, and it’s one of the most thoroughly engaging albums of the young year.

From the opening ambience of “Bözbeg,” Mode unfolds carefully, deliberately, adding layer after layer to the mix to quash any remnants of a life the listener may have had left. The guitar and bass feel as though they’ve had their strings tuned down as low as sonically possible, and the drums are mixed perfectly—loud enough to come through with pristine clarity, yet not so much as to overpower the rest of the instrumentation. The band makes tremendous use of repetition throughout, beating riffs and passages home over and over for effect without even once approaching the point of overkill. The album ends up feeling like the master of a domain somewhere between YOB and Pelican in that regard—reminiscent, at times, of both bands, yet still very much its own entity.

As its six songs unfold before us, Mode‘s true colors begin to present themselves. It’s the kind of album that lingers with you, that wouldn’t dream of going in for a quick kill and fleeing immediately thereafter; why do that, when it could instead jab the knife into the listener’s side and slowly twist and turn the blade through every remaining fiber of light left within? The sound feels cold and calculated in its darkness, with a fully-realized plan for how best to completely submerge your soul.

That consistent, methodical approach does make it a bit jarring when we catch a quick glimpse of vocal work on the ten-plus-minute centerpiece, “Gloom.” That’s not a slight against guest vocalist Tomas Lijedahl; his delivery is perhaps a bit shriller and higher-pitched than you might expect given the thick, immense sonic backdrop lain out before him, but still gets the job done well enough. Rather, the inclusion simply can’t help but catch you off guard a bit, given how masterfully the band has owned its instrumental approach up to this point. By the fourth or fifth listen, though, it ends up settling in quite nicely. (And don’t worry, the band also included an instrumental version of the tune to close the album.)

Even down the stretch on Mode, Ølten still manages to find new ways to get under your skin, new layers of grime to turn over, examine, and add to their cacophonous load. (Those jangly guitars that open “Güdel”? Positively drool-worthy.) And that’s where the album’s most admirable. Each listen reveals further nuances and hits that much harder than the last. In the end, it’s hard to recall an album that so completely sweeps through the darkest reaches of your mind. Or one that makes such a trip so incredibly appealing.

Keep it heavy,


Mode is available now on Hummus and Division Records. For more information on Ølten, visit the band’s official website.

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