Let's face it: djent is beginning to sound really, really homogeneous. Though we've known for a while that every single band in the genre is cutting their music the same mould as Meshuggah, I'm beginning to suspect they're using the same knife and cutting board, too. A lot of the bands in this genre just don't do much to distance themselves from each other, and if you had merely listened to their 2009 EP Omnislash, you would have assumed Swedish band Vildhjarta was in the exact same boat. It was an undeniably cool-sounding release, but today, it sounds almost interchangeable with TesseracT, or Animals as Leaders, or Chimp Spanner, or Uneven Structure, or...
Fast forward two years, and I have just finished listening to their proper debut album, måsstaden. I have absolutely no idea what they were up to in the intervening years, but something serious must have clicked, because this album sounds almost nothing like their debut. The clean vocals have been all but eliminated, melodic riffs are nowhere to be found, and the accessible, versechorus song structures have been excised. In their stead, they have frequent abuse of atonal melodies, nonlinear songwriting, immense technical proficiency, and an almost impenetrably sludgy exterior. That description actually makes them sound even more like Meshuggah than their peers. But after listening to this album, it is clear that Vildhjarta have managed to break away from the back not only in terms of their sound, but also in the quality of their music.
The band have stated that måsstaden is a concept album, and literally every part of the music is there for a reason. The result is that the album is so heavily and intricately composed that it needs more than one listen in order to grasp all of the depth, all of the detail, and all of the fine-crafted handiwork that went into this album. This isn't an album that can be understood the moment you toss it into your CD player--it demands your attention and patience to be understood fully.
The tradeoff is that, once you fully embrace it, måsstaden is incredibly rewarding. There's something intensely beautiful to be found behind the obtuse layer of thick guitars and growling vocals. From the way the light, ambient segments flow in and out of the heavier sections to the complex rhythmic interplay, everything about this album feels incredibly fulfilling to listen to. It feels wrong to pick individual songs out, as the album really does have to be heard in full, but some moments do stand out from the rest. The way the outro to "all these feelings" goes from sweet sentimentality to toneless clicking is awe-inspiring, and the quick shifts in tempo and tone during "the lone deranger" are incredible. Some of the more straightforward grooves on "deceit" and "traces" are also surprisingly lucid--they're incredibly complex and intricate, but still not too far removed from the standard djent fare. And don't let the wide variation in runtimes influence your opinion on this album--not a single second of any track is wasted. The shortest track on the album, "måsstadens nationalsång", is an absolutely brilliant guitar solo that manages to pack in all of the diversity and brilliance of other metal solos into less than 50 seconds.
If you held a gun to my head and demanded I point out something, anything that this album could improve on, I would first be extremely worried that you had a loaded firearm pointed at me. Then I'd probably mention the album's lyrics could stand some improvement. As with any concept album, telling the story often forces the lyrics into uncomfortable patterns and odd-sounding phrases. Given that the majority of the album is screaming and growling, however, you won't even be hearing most of the lyrics unless you look them up or listen really, really closely. (That's not me hating on death growling, by the way--they just are much more difficult to decipher than sung vocals.) I suppose this isn't so much a criticism as it is a fact of life given the genre Vildhjarta are working in, but if there is any one point the album could improve on, it would be that.
This isn't your average metal--this album is incredibly thick and difficult to wade through. Listening to it is a task that actually requires active concentration and thought. But if you do, you'll find that it's one of the most rewarding musical experiences you've ever had. This is, hands-down, one of the most excellent albums I have heard, and if you have the patience to listen to it, it will move you.