I’m a simple man. I see a Nordvis promo and I click it. We all have our labels that we’ve come to instantly associate with quality in our heads, and for me it doesn’t get much better than the Swedish label’s self-styled brand of “poor music for poor people.” I haven’t yet met a release of theirs that I didn’t appreciate, and I certainly didn’t see that trend stop when I picked up Ödhin, the newest release from Swedish folk/black metal duo Bhleg (who may just have the best name on the scene right now).
Ödhin (“fate”) is Bhleg’s third full length release, and with it the duo of S. and L. (rounded out by drummer A.) weave together a timely and maybe a little too on-the-nose collection of musings on the end times and Ragnarök. While the lyrical content might be of the sort of stories we’re pretty tired of hearing right now, the way they choose to deliver them is anything but tired or overdone. Personally, I think black metal is at its most interesting when there’s elements thrown in there that are decidedly not trve kvlt, and Bhleg weave in the requisite acoustic elements and chant vocals to give it that sweet Nordic je ne sais quoi. Granted, it’s not the most original combination of elements found in the black metal scene, but goddamn does it work, and on Ödhin it works really well. There’s a very cinematic feel to how all these songs come together, and the pacing of the album works well in conjunction with the story they are trying to tell. There are plenty of moods to sink into, from the wild savagery and aggression, to contemplative folk meditations, to the soaring melodies of pagan/post-/atmospheric black metal. Hell, “Gyllene Gal” even features some gentle synths played underneath chickens clucking. So, yeah. That’s a mood right there, too.
Despite everything the duo weaves in and out of their music, the roots of Ödhin are decidedly firmly planted in black metal. Icy second wave guitars kick this thing off almost immediately, and while there is a tremendous amount of depth and melody in the nine minute opener “Vyss,” there’s never really any doubt about where the duo is coming from musically. Even when things take a more melodic and atmospheric turn in the centerpiece “Slukad Sol” (which is, for my money, the standout track on the album), there isn’t a lot of straying away from the formula. Don’t get me wrong: Bhleg do the formula massive amounts of justice here. Ödhin is an album that satisfies me to my core. It is exactly the kind of black metal that I seek out, as opposed to passively finding. Still, I find myself actually slightly missing the folk elements I feel like I was promised. While they are definitely there, they take a while to really kick in, and there just isn’t as much as I thought there would be. Maybe it’s a case of expectations not precisely lining up with reality, but whenever the acoustic guitars or other folk instruments come in, I just wish they were more present. Still, I don’t want my opinion to be taken the wrong way. I really like this album, and I think repeated listens will help me temper my expectations and see the big picture more clearly.
Ah, the first review of 2021. It may be only be the start of my second year writing here, but I do feel that there’s always something nice about rounding the corner and coming in fresh to a new year of metal. If Ödhin is any indication of the shape of the scene this year, I’d say there’s already a lot to look forward to. Let’s hope the lyrics are more conjecture than prophecy, and let’s hope that the music keeps coming at exactly this caliber. It’s how we’re all going to get out of this okay.