One of the most glorious culinary inventions in the history of the modern world is incontrovertibly iced cream (or cream ice as it was known). Combining milk rich with fat proteins along with sugar and flavoring and merely allowing it to slowly churn as it freezes created a revolution. Children were happier. Their grades improved. And, for a brief time, humans ceased waging war on each other. It wasn’t until iced cream flavors began to truly develop that wars crept up as citizens of Earth warred over spices, methods and flavorings seeking to secure the best for the people of their nation states.
As society evolved, so did the ways in which iced cream was consumed. The milkshake became a staple of 1950s living, providing young couples in love with an excess of heavy, fattening (and often gas-inducing) cream to ingest before necking while parked on some public street. People across the world developed unique names for the same thing. The milkshake because a cupboard or a frap, etc. Many bold men, particularly Jewish ones living in the remote hippie enclave of Vermont, began forcing ingredients into iced cream. Cookies, brownies, marshmallows, salted caramel–was nothing free from their unholy, marijuana-influenced grasp? Iced cream became a race to soil the pure product with any smashable ingredient. Dairy Queens across the country began mixing candy with soft serve to provide an unholy concoction named after a not-so-frequently occurring natural disaster. Impostors made similar abominations invoking other natural disasters as their name. And it became full on iced cream mania across the great globe upon which all life relies.
Through all this hoopla and pandemonium, sitting at the center, was the base from which all iced cream had been created: vanilla. Simple and pure in its nearly unadulterated form, vanilla provided the canvas upon which all other iced creams were created. Yet, even on its own it was pleasing. A reminder of childhood. Sometimes speckled with tiny black vanilla beans it cried out as the fanciest choice for culinary minimalists. Often maligned in its simplicity, the flavor fought on currying favor with those children who never developed the hedonistic desire for all things chocolate. And here it remains today, a simple, white, sugary concoction ready to sate your palate on warm summer days or adorn your warm pie in the cooler months. It’s a stoic, almost brave flavor that rejects the pomp and circumstance of iced cream frivolity so plaguing today’s youth. And that’s it. Simple, simple vanilla. A staple of any connoisseur’s diet.
[sharp left turn]
On an ever upward trending trajectory, Panphage (the one-man project of Sweden’s Fjällbrandt) spent nearly 10 whole years on demos alone before releasing his debut LP, Storm, in 2015. That album showed vision. Throughout, the simply produced gem vocals swathed in reverb accompanied moderately-paced black metal backed by rock-derived riffs, melodic passages, aggressive vocals, and an altogether promising take on black metal that borrowed more than a touch from the German school. After a few splits, Panphage released Drengskapr in 2016 which was widely hailed as a triumph and even made a few year end lists (even topping one). With little fanfare, Fjällbrandt announced that in 2018, Panphage would release Jord which would signal the end of the project.
Coming off the heel of a widely heralded album, perhaps the pressure was removed. Perhaps Fjällbrandt felt like he had accomplished all it was he needed to do with Panphage. Perhaps he felt like it was time to move on and tend to other projects. Whatever the reason, Jord, at just under 40 minutes of run time was to be the end. Had Drengskapr been the end, the world might be talking about what could have been. With that album showing nothing short of masterful balance and execution, what could have come next would be nothing but legendary. As it is, Jord is seemingly an attempt at the staple–the vanilla iced cream of black metal.
The vocals, previously showing diversity among their well-balanced delivery, have stepped up their aggression, using a more classically German method of spit and spatter, but have suffered from the one-note delivery. Perhaps the most successful track on the album, “Måtte dessa bygder brinna,” shows the vocals at their most caustic. Being delivered over briskly paced drums and a melodious guitar line, the call-to-arms feeling is invoked. But to where?
Vanilla iced cream is great. That’s the main point here. Creamy, luxurious and always there as a perfect base upon which to layer other flavors. But, if you’ve just had something that raises the bar, a return to vanilla might be a bummer. It might be boring by comparison. And, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means that there was potential for something else to happen and rather than take the brave route, the manufacturer played it safe with good ole vanilla. And, as Ronny Cammareri claims in Moonstruck, “Why you wanna sell your life short? Playing it safe is just about the most dangerous thing… you could do.”