In the course of a decade and a half, Andreas Hedlund has positioned himself alongside the Akerfeldts and Ihsahns of the world by creating extreme music at the vanguard. For many, that means his art is to be loved or hated, and if you hate it, it’s because you’re not paying attention, goddammit, or maybe you’re just not smart enough. Pubescent elitism aside, though, it can’t be denied that with the aid of longtime compatriot, Mattias Marklund, Hedlund has built a small but durable legacy in the progressive black/folk metal world. Sure it’s a limiting niche to which to aspire and maybe his impact blasts a mightier crater in the north of Europe, but even those folks less geographically nigh to the man are likely to recognize him as Vintersorg or, to a lesser extent, Mr. V, or maybe just as that guy who’s solo stuff sounds a lot like the music he makes in that other Swedish Chef-ian band, Borknagar.
That last assessment held for 3 albums and the better part of a decade, but of late there’s been a significant and welcome divergence of style between Mr. V and Borknagar’s primary creative force, Øystein Brun. Whereas Vintersorg’s cosmic chaos records strived to match the impenetrable layering and intricacy of Borknagar’s efforts from the same period (or maybe it’s the other way ’round), his latest, Solens Rötter and now Jordpuls, have taken steps ahead with a less-is-more approach, though this is, of course, a relative notion.
Jordpuls’ production is comparably thinner but anybody who’s spent time being bounced around by Vintersorg’s more-is-better mid-period is sure to note that this is a good thing. Good because more sonic space means more room for the melodies to breathe. Good because now more than ever the melodies define the record. As always, they’re perpetually rising and falling quickly and slowly and ever embraced by Hedlund’s inimitable omnipresent vocal harmonies. And many will be happy to hear that the Vintersorg sound is nearer the black than it’s been in many records, as in the primary riffs of “Mörk Nebulosa” (Shazbot, Nanu Nanu), and reflects a reach to the band’s roots, a more and more common tack in the modern progressive sphere.
The lyrics are once again all in Swedish so it’s hard to know whether Vintersorg’s again asking us to sharpen our mindtools, but it’s probably a safe bet that he is, as implied by “Stjärndyrkan”’s recollection of the main melody from “A Sphere in a Sphere? (To Infinity),” the quality implied in that comparison being pretty much right on target. Plenty of great songs, to be sure, but in the end, Hedlund nearly sabotages them with frustrating structural redundancy, injecting every song with something like a pretty interlude. It leaves the listener jonesin’ for just one song that rocks all the way through goddammit. Please.
What must be evident in the discussion thus far is that the Jordpuls offering is yet another fine example of Vintersorg’s exceptional songcraft that unfortunately cannibalizes itself within echoed architecture. The real problem, though, is that this has been going on forever. Or does longevity suggest that it’s not a problem? I.e., Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. It’s beyond argument, really, that we habituate to even the best stuff over time. Hell, the truckload of ice cream sundae we dream of as kids could be truly enjoyable for only so long and then, eventually, inevitably, it’s too much of a good thing. You know you’ll be back, because it’s awesome, but for now, you just can’t take another bite.
Jordpuls feels like a forward-thinker, the sine qua non of progressive music, but it’s deceiving because it’s really just the perfection of a formula cultivated over a decade that, following from Solens Rötter, culls its ostensible progression from backward glances. This makes for a satisfying remembrance of greatness while leaving frustratingly out of reach that wholly sensual satisfaction that comes most often with outright bravery.