They say good things come to those who wait, and while it’s true that, despite the culture we live in, delayed gratification is more often than not the sweeter option, there are a couple of notable examples in the music world of the wait not quite being worth it, to say the least. Chinese Democracy surely takes the cake, but (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) Fear Inoculum deserves a mention in the “did it really live up to the hype” category. What, then, of a band like Vildhjarta, who so dramatically changed the game with their debut Måsstaden and then, besides an EP in 2013, remained suspiciously silent until now, with the long-awaited release of måsstaden under vatten? I guess the answer to that question depends on what you’re expecting.
Vildhjarta might not exactly be household names, but if you know, you know. It’s entirely fair to say that, despite what you thought about Måsstaden, there was nothing else that sounded like it. Sure, the easy comparison has always been to Meshuggah, and the similarities are certainly there. Crushing, downtuned guitars, angular melodies and odd meters abound, but that doesn’t make them the Meshuggah clones the uninitiated tend to see them as, and Vildhjarta deserve to exist in a category of their own. What they bring to the table that separates them from the pack is loads more layers and interplaying melodies and harmonies that build tension in a more subtle way than their contemporaries, a much more nuanced blend of melody and dissonance and a style that stomps and plods more than barrels through. Everything that made Måsstaden a success is back in full force on måsstaden under vatten, thanks in no small part to drummer Buster Odeholm (who is also the mastermind behind Humanity’s Last Breath, a connection I am still kicking myself about not making sooner). Odeholm contributed writing as well as producing, mixing and mastering the record, which definitely needs to be the first thing highlighted about måsstaden under vatten. A lot of the delicate layers of electronics, strings and other mood enhancers have the potential to be lost amidst all the chaos of bowel-churning staccato riffs, pounding drums and sharp, disjointed melodies, but Odeholm’s touch behind the board leaves room for everything to breathe and settle in. And, of course, the singular style of Vildhjarta has its own signature guitar tone, masterfully crafted by Odeholm and the rest of the band that sings out loud and clear here.
For all its subtlety and nuances, måsstaden under vatten is still a punishingly heavy album. The main sonic feature is what originally put the band on the radar of so many in the extreme music scene: dense riffs tuned so low that they barely register in the human ear, seemingly random jumps across the fretboard into dissonant, sickening melodic phrases and near constant shifting in feel and tempo. There is never a moment where what you think is going to happen next happens exactly the way you envisioned, but that is part of the magic of Vildhjarta. Every note seems to hit you out of left field, and it all seems barely kept from flying apart at the seams, but every bold choice lands with more grace than you might expect at first. Despite first impressions being ones of chaotic disorder, this is an album that is very meticulously thought out, and the performances on it really help to drive home just how forward-thinking Vildhjarta are in their songcraft.
So, was it worth the wait? måsstaden under vatten doesn’t exactly do anything to shake up Vildhjarta’s tried and true formula, but then again, it doesn’t really have to. It still shines brightly as an example of the places extreme metal still has yet to explore, and it holds its own against its contemporaries by being fearlessly itself, for all of seventeen tracks and almost an hour and a half long (which might be, you know, a little excessive for an album this dense). Still, it is exactly what I wanted it to be, and I think it’s fair to say I’m not the only one to think that way. I guess that only leaves one thing left to say to take us home: thall…