I think we’ve already established my feeling for Andreas Hedlund, aka Vintersorg, the man of 1,001 hats, all of them metal. Even in his most, uh…let’s say esoteric outings (I’m looking at you, Waterclime) there’s a willingness and sincerity to everything he does, and a growth or expansion of sound and genre that’s truly inspiring. So the last thing you’d expect is for the man to look backwards, but after years of fans clamoring for him to do a “sequel” (weird as the concept is to an album that is decidedly non-narrative in nature) here we are with Till Fjälls del II, a sequel in spirit as the man returns to the mix of black metal and folk that initiated his journey.
So let’s go back 19 years to 1998 and the original Till Fjälls…an album that at the time really captured how black metal and folk could work together to evoke the natural world without resorting to low-brow sound effects, instead relying on melody and majestic riffs to express the environment. In that way I’ve always drawn parallels to what Quorthon would do in Bathory, especially on the two Nordland albums. But Till Fjälls sweeps a more epic path, even inserting the memorable melody (riff?) from Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt into the very black metal “För kung och fosterland.” The whole is a statement of not knowing what you could and couldn’t mix in metal, and it’s purity would be hard to retain over 20 years and over a dozen other albums under various guises.
Over the last six years there’s been a slow but concerted effort to get back to that purity. 2011’s Jordpuls was the first of a planned quartet of albums focusing on the elements and the natural world. And while the vicious vocals are there, the music – while certainly heavy – evokes a past in terms of music history, but not necessarily his. Orkan was a little better, with an emphasis on more symphonic elements, but something still felt a little lost. After completing 2014’s Naturbål Hedlund must have felt a little of the same, because here we are back at the beginning with Till Fjälls del II.
If the fury of the opening seconds of “Jökelväktaren” don’t immediately get you excited for what’s to come, I don’t think I can help you. It just comes roaring out of the gate full blast, then takes a small step back to lay down a d-beat before stepping back up into majesty with Hedlund’s clean vocals, about man’s attempt to preserve and sustain the glacial environment. The chorus just layers on those syrupy vocals and the sound is massive. The second half of the song brings back those black metal screeches against a folk melody played on keyboards, guitar chords pounding in the background. And since it wouldn’t be Vintersorg without some weirdness, you can vaguely hear hand claps in toward the end of the song.
In a way “Jökelväktaren” sets the tone for the rest of Till Fjälls del II. “En väldig isvidds karga dräkt” plays the clean and black vocals against each other in conversation over acoustic guitars before again blasting into ripping metal. “Fjällets mäktiga mur” may open with a pretty piano, but it quickly moves back to a charging metal attack that borrows from Borknagar as much as it does Vintersorg’s older catalog. The album closes with “Vårflod” which features vocals by Cia, who also sang vocals on the 1998 Till Fjälls. Rather than opt for a quiet, acoustic ending this one hits a very modern metal poise, bringing a final shot of power to an album that was already full of it.
I’d be lying if I said the purity I mentioned earlier was evident in Till Fjälls del II the same way it was on the original all those years ago. Hedlund has changed just as much as the world and the people who listened to the record back then. But what is there is a revitalization, a willingness to embrace again a sound he was a large part in making popular, and if in the process he happens to make his best album in at least a decade then, well…I guess we should all be okay with that.