Release DetailsLABEL Century Media
RELEASED ON 11/29/2011
posted on 1/2012 By:
Midway through "Eternal Golden Monk," track three of Vildhjarta's debut album, Måsstaden, the vocal tandem of Daniel Ädel and Vilhelm Bladin roar "When you reach perfection, you know decline is on its way." And even though you can't be sure, it's hard to imagine they're not hollering about the state of djent in the wake of Catch-33. The question among critics re: djent is whether the inherently rigid style allows practitioners enough wiggle room to break the cycle of diminishing returns that followed Meshuggah's masterwork. With Måsstaden, Vildhjarta has not produced an album that approaches the brilliance of Meshuggah's Ur-djent capstone, but the band has enlivened their work with so much creative energy, so much life, that the question of whether or not this style can continue to thrive seems almost moot.
Those who have followed Vildhjarta since the release of the 2009's Omnislash EP already know that the Meshuggah comparison will only get the uninitiated halfway home when describing the band's sound. The fundamental difference, as far as I can hear, is that while Vildhjarta isn't shy about using syncopation and polyrhythms to flavor songs, it never feels essential to what the band is doing. Whereas some of Meshuggah's greater moments came when the band was carefully looping opposing rhythms to create a sense of unstable momentum ("In Death - Is Death"), Vildhjarta offers no such subtlety. If Meshuggah's brilliance came in hiding mind-shearing complexity behind austere, concrete walls of sound, than Måsstaden is something more like a sumptuously decorative basilica. This is not to say that Vildhjarta's appeal is superficial, only that much of Måsstaden's sonic information is presented blatantly.
Album opener "Shadow," for example, jigsaws together triplets, squelches and 8-string-chugga in a way that brings to mind an early Ion Dissonance album, with every half-second of sound removed and pitch-shifted down an octave. This, readers, is a good thing. Vildhjarta's riff alchemy, while complex, still feels deliberate. Main man Daniel Bergström isn't just stuttering along the low registers of his 8-string in hopes of approximating something djenty; Måsstaden's better songs swing because they're replete with precise sets of riffs. Vildhjarta's guitarists are also capable of some venom on this record, a mean-streak much needed in a style so prone to getting lost in the numbers. "Benblast," for example, unleashes a tidal wave of dissonant tremolo at the 2:00 minute mark which, though brief, lives a life committed solely to violence.
Måsstaden, it should be noted, is supposed to be a concept album about a hidden village. And, for better or worse, Måsstaden moves like a concept album. "Traces" edges so closely to theatrical, with clean guitar plinking and melodic vocals, but it never quite eats the cheese. It's actually a convincingly maudlin track that, against odds, builds to the kid of uneasy emotional crescendo that should probably make the dudes in Textures feel pretty terrible about the decisions they've made in life. However, following that emotional peak, the album's artifice grows gradually more impenetrable. "All These Feelings" and "The Long Deranger"--each around seven minutes in length--swing the djent hammer with seeming disregarding for the listener's stamina. By the end, Måsstaden ends up feeling like a task, which is a shame considering the vitality of the album's first half.
If Vildhjarta's debut is truly the referendum on the state of djent that some have made it out to be, than the seven piece Swedish outfit has certainly offered ample information upon which to judge the style. While sounding disjointed at times, and about ten minutes too long in total, Måsstaden is nevertheless an album that rewards in spells because it dares to. This is likely not the album to legitimize djent to the skeptical metalhead, but the ideas presented here should feed enough steam to the genre's purveyors to ensure that, at the very least, we're going to have to keep talking about it for a while. Can djent adapt and thrive? Yes. Måsstaden is proof.
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