Few albums have touched us in ways that left us emotionally attached for months afterward. But with the release of the debut album by The End, the mix of sadness and strength were enough to resonate long after the album had left our rotation. With a new album recorded, prepped and released, proprietor Svartblod returns with four songs of depression and loss. But where his first effort pulled you in to the secret pain he was expressing, the sophomore effort has lofty goals to strive for. Raw and rough around the edges, this is depressive black metal done with care and a large personal investment. But with only a handful of songs, and a short run time, it may be a mountain of a climb to express everything that went into its creation.
Using the word moody t describe the sound emanating from your speakers early in Across The Ocean might give you the wrong impression of what Svartblod is doing; it isn't the same melancholic moods he crafted on his last album, but a far softer and far more murky setting. The mix is littered in some spots with an ambient quality that doesn't feel fully fleshed out. On the whole, the track doesn't ever reach the apex you are expecting, with only a minute or so of any substance. Instead, he chooses the reserved approach which may or may not be a proper fit. The follow up, UrbaNausea, features a vocal assist from Bogdan Makarov, and also takes a more direct line from start to finish. Here are the blasting percussion and layered melodic elements done so well on previous efforts. A harsh vocal line completes the contrasting pieces.
But balancing the jagged edges with the rounded corners becomes difficult again, as the latter far outweighs the former. That becomes the theme of the album in total, searching for the right give and take. The title track is a back and forth affair, flirting with the heavy before jumping back to the emotionally rich quiet parts. Again, there is a lot to be found here, but it lacks pacing, and feels stilted in the end. Just beyond the three minute mark, it feels like something extraordinary is brewing, but with little pay off. The concussive kick drums quickly disappear, leaving little in their wake. Even with the early assertions of Drown With A Sunshine Smile, complete with spoken word passages attached, there is little payoff. Another guest vocal appearance injects some degree of energy to the mix, but without a cohesive flow from part to part, it falls flat.
It is not only possible to be both heavy and emotionally savvy at the same time, but it has been done to great success. Even The End has achieved that combination on their last release. But here, it seems to come down to an either or sort of deal, where you get one or the other, but never both at the same time, in the same place. Svartblod doesn't lack the creativity or vision to make that happen again, but on an album of only four tracks, time simply ran out too quickly to make his inspiration felt. Yes, there are several passages that breathe and pull on your heartstrings with their subtle melodic touches. But without the yang, this yin just doesn't stand out as brightly. After a successful debut, it gives reason to hope that White Lotus is a stumble, and not the fall.