Vanhelga – Längtan (Art of Propaganda)Sunday, 13th April 2014
One of the best aspects of being able to cover music is the sea of surprises that come about when you least expect them. Case in point this peculiar Swedish group Vanhelga and their low-key release Längtan, stuffed to the gills with melody, black metal, nature love, and the vocal histrionics of a man possessed in frontman J. Gabrielson (formerly of Lifelover). On first glance of the cover art it looks like something straight out of the second wave circa 1994 but a quick peek beneath that exterior reveals a much more complicated (and rewarding) beast of an album, more elaborate and fulfilling than it initial leads on.
The music itself is a continual experience in tension and catharsis as the many overlapping (and often opposing) sounds/influences/whatever fight it out across each song. At times there’s old Emperor here, at times there’s Agalloch (The Mantle era, anyway) and at others there are simply ample (even overwhelming) expositions and lessons in the ways of the Swedish weird. There are blastbeats and shrieks, sure, they’re peppered through most of the songs, but there’s a great deal more than that. Take opener “Svartsint ömhet” or “Med mina andetag” when blastbeats give way to melodic acoustic guitars married with a vocal delivery that’s everywhere and nowhere, a suffocating cacophony that lords over the music as though some sort of paralyzing serenade on the serenity of madness (check those adjectives, yo). Normally vocals this schizophrenic can tend to grate, especially with an album as long as this one (67 minutes), but here it’s really nailed down and truly makes for a more exhilarating experience.
Long-player “Vanisinnesvardag’ is a sweeping amalgamation of everything this album does right and strings it together for an undulating nigh-nine minutes. It’s about pulse, it’s about waves of melancholy and misery that crash upon the listener until all that remain are something akin to the mute ghosts that adorn the album cover. Längtan is not an easy listening experience, for both its sheer girth and the oft-enormous variability of the songs individually. Like any experience in treading the pales of the abyss, however, the journey carries with it rewards that are unmatched by lesser experiences and in Längtan Vanhelga has done exactly that. It’s unfortunately very likely this album will exist only in the hearts of the tiniest corners of the kvlt world as this year bleeds to completion, and that’s a shame. Few experiences are likely to have as profound effect upon you.