Originally written by Jordan Campbell
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fully understand the roots of the post-rock and neo-folk influences that are slowly creeping their way into black metal. Yeah, it’s easy to plug keywords into Last.fm radio for some instant satisfaction, but a full understanding of these genres (in their standalone forms) is something that will likely elude my grasp. That said, their continued seepage into metallic realms has yielded exciting results; bands from Agalloch to Alcest and beyond have been producing stunning material of late.
The black/folk bond, in particular, has been strong since Ulver‘s heyday, and in 2010, a spate of bands are merging the two with seamless strength. Svarti Loghin–despite an endearing, left-field approach on this sophomore record–doesn’t rank among the elite. Their black metal elements, in actuality, aren’t very black at all—the band plies a reedy aesthetic that’s more sunkissed than scorched. Drifting Through the Void succeeds in creating a lilting, autumnal atmosphere that is occasionally refreshing…but only occasionally effective.
Trouble is, Svarti Loghin’s aspirations seem to be just beyond their grasp, and Drifting Through the Void’s thin production pushes them farther out of reach. This serious lack of heft has a purpose—it makes the band’s twig-snapping, leaf-crunching vibe come alive—but it also renders their repetitious, pseudo-hypnotic riffing quite powerless. This side effect is difficult to reconcile. (The distant, washed-out drumming only exacerbates matters.)
Vocally, Drifting… drifts a little too wildly. “Kosmik Tomhet” opens with unintelligible, baritone cleans (courtesy of guitarist Limpan) that would barely pass muster on a stoner rock album. He quickly trades mic duty with multi-instrumentalist S.L., who prefers a depressive black howl of the Xasthurian school. Though he never reaches Nattramnesque levels of madness, these tortured howls sound ridiculously out-of-place on tracks like “Odelagd Framtid,” as the music seems sewn together with lighter-than-light clothes torn from the Gin Blossoms’ long-closed closet.
Yes, there’s a significant early 90’s vibe here, but it’s not the right kind. The album’s centerpiece, “Drifting Through the Void,” exemplifies this. Simultaneously the album’s biggest success and most baffling failure, this is a lo-fi grunge tribute—a rejected Screaming Trees ballad pressed through a grey, dreary-ass filter. (This throwback to flannel could be entirely unintentional, in which case the “baffling failure” statement would be especially apt). Spunkily-strummed acoustic guitars join a harmonica (!) in a woodsy, porch-planted romp, until those despondent black wails pierce the tranquility again. The transition is neither fluid nor surprising, nor is it altogether welcome. When mixed with the peppy, tip-toeing arpeggios the band is so fond of, the contrast is borderline silly. Grutle had this problem on Vertebrae (re: “Reflection”), but Svarti Loghin aren’t Enslaved, and therefore, the gaffes won’t slide. In spite of the misfires, however, the band’s sense of adventure is palpable.
The title track is followed by the nine-minute-plus “Bury My Heart in Starlit Waters,” which is yet another mess of contrasting push-pulls. Perhaps aware of their instability, Svarti Loghin tug Drifting… down to Earth with an unadventurous cover of “Planet Caravan.” Thankfully, Limpan’s clean vocals fare far better here, but the band plays it straight and throws their adventurousness out the window. After thirty-five minutes of unique travels, this ultra-safe execution of the Sabbath classic is a frustrating disappointment. It’s a missed opportunity of the most tragic order.
While Svarti Loghin deserves credit for taking a creative angle on an increasingly popular sub-subgenre, the finished product is leaves too much to be desired. I’d love to see the band tighten their sinew and craft a compelling product, but Drifting… suffers from a crippling lack of focus. Until they find their stroke, one can find solace in the fact that our friends from France and the Pacific Northwest are doing this type of thing at a much higher level.