2020 can be described as a lot of things, most of them far from pleasant. I don’t think “evil” is a stretch, considering all of the rampant bullshit abounding and the world being a dumpster fire growing hotter and smellier every single day. I have no idea if Sweden’s Pågå are referring specifically to this year with the title of their debut album The Evil Year, but considering the whole affair is winding down and this album is chock full of all things strange, outlandish and psychedelic, I have to think that’s where at least some inspiration came from.
Pågå is a new project from the brothers Åhman, Pelle and Gottfried, both of whom are best known as members of the tragically defunct Swedish heavy metal group In Solitude. It’s always nice to see the family staying together, and for those who are still in mourning over the passing of In Solitude five years ago, these are names that have definitely been missed around the music scene. It turns out that all that time away hasn’t made the signature Åhman attack any less potent. In the same way that In Solitude perfectly captured the spirit of the classic heavy metal sound while still being able to put a modern spin on it, so too does Pågå take the classic, retro post punk vibe and turn it several times over on its head. “Out of a great lust to encounter the unknown and to explore the boundless in us this record/work came about, in the hands of The High Spirit Rebel. We wish this may serve as great entertainment, a bad enemy, an instrument and a match,” say the brothers of The Evil Year. In true fashion, before they’ve even released an album yet, the band has already attracted the attention of vocalist/musician/curator Mat “Kvohst” McNernry for his imprint on Svart records. That should tell you something about what you’re about to get into!
Start to finish, The Evil Year is a buck wild ride. When the Åhman brothers say they’re trying to explore the boundless, they really mean it. The album opens with, what else, a ten-minute bass and percussion driven jam complete with pitch-shifted, swirling vocals, stabs of atonal guitar and general psychedelic freakery. Did the opening track of this album need to be ten whole minutes of that? I don’t really think so, but it does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the songs, all of which are much shorter, but equally as experimental and outlandish. Most of The Evil Year cuts a pretty wide swathe through instrumentation, never truly settling on just the trinity of guitar, bass and drums. There’s everything here from accordion to harmonica to vibraphones and piano and organs and weird synthesizers and random stabs of noise samples, and it serves to give each track its own unique sound and identity, with no two sounding alike, or even similar for that matter. Lead single “Enter” is probably the most straightforward song on the album. Driven hard by a repeated guitar melody and a killer bassline, it pretty handily captures an old school, almost 70s retro vibe. “Storm” closes the album with what seems to me to be a little bit of a Radiohead vibe, and “Wholly Gone” works with a somber piano motif leading a melancholy dirge. Every song has a mood all its own, and while it can go off in pretty wild, contrasting directions at time, The Evil Year isn’t afraid to try anything and everything under the sun.
If you’re American, then you’re reading this post-Thanksgiving, hopefully in a leftovers-induced stupor. I, personally, want to echo the sentiments of everyone here at 9 Circles and say thank you to the people who read and share these reviews, interact with us, listen to us rambling like idiots on the podcast, and generally make all this worthwhile. It’s been a long year, a tiring year, a year that seems like every day brings something new to get through, but thanks to you (and Pågå) it’s not quite so…well, evil.