With varying degrees of economic, social, and political turmoil occurring all over the world, it’s no surprise that a growing number of metal artists have used struggles of the past in order to craft heavy music for the present. The latest among this group is Änterbila, who help us bring 2022 to a close with their self-titled debut album of rip-roaring black metal about Swedish peasantry from the 18th – 20th centuries. Folk-inspired elements top off Änterbila to present a short but solid introduction that is hopefully just a taste of what’s to come.
The conceptual basis for Änterbila is the plight of the ‘statare’ — manorial farm workers who were given food and lodging by landlords instead of wages. Unsurprisingly, having to pay for other necessities plunged many statare into debt slavery. Änterbila capture the rage and anguish of these peasants with riffing I’d describe as playful, for lack of a better word. The music is certainly as dark as the subject matter, but the riffs and melodies bring the folkloric aspect to the forefront in a way that’s akin to recent releases from medieval-inspired black metal bands like Ungfell and Heltekvad.
I have to give special commendation to the mixing on this album as well — the slight reverb on the drums and low number of guitar tracks make it easy to envision Änterbila as a group of peasants playing in a small cabin during some of their precious free hours away from serfdom. The prominent, thundering bass is also welcome in a genre that often ignores the instrument. The opening/closing tracks “Vallåt från Gnarp” and “Nattens Gåvolott” also deserve recognition for setting the stage with ambient keyboards and haunting violin in the case of the former, and the latter taking us out of the darkness of the core black metal songs with soft acoustic guitar that ends all too abruptly…perhaps it’s time to return to the fields?
While the album is bookended by beautiful folk tracks, there ultimately isn’t much integration of these elements into the metal songs except for some brief clean guitar and chant-like vocals. I hope future material will bring the folk front and center as it immensely benefits the atmosphere and what the band seem to be going for thematically. Not everyone can masterfully integrate folk music together with black metal in individual songs a la Bergtatt or Kentucky, but I’d sure love to see Änterbila try.