Although it’s doubtful whether there ever existed a music industry business model as homogenized as the popular imagination has it, it’s equally doubtless that in 2019, nobody anywhere has any goddamn idea what music looks like as a business. Release fifty demos to Bandcamp in a month for free download? Sure, why not. Sign to a label and release a 37-minute album on double LP for $45? Yeah, okay. Stuff a handful of download codes into sixers of Rolling Rock and gas station bags of Andy Capp’s Hot Fries to approach your fans in their natural habitat? I mean… yeah, what the hell.
Nevertheless, can we agree that on the whole, the current musical environment is not particularly inclined to patience? Sweden’s Nasheim, then, is notably out of fashion with the recent release of Jord och Aska, its first album in five years, and only the second in the 16 years since the release of its first demo. In those long intervals between releases, just as in the patiently windswept sprawl of his songwriting, Nasheim’s Erik Grahn is in no hurry. It’s not until almost six minutes into the album’s opening song, the side-long “Att Sväva över Vidderna,” that the restrained, even fatalistic tempo yields to a brisker pace, but even that – a fairly languid ¾ – feels more deliberate than rushed, driven by a welling-up of some internal determination.
Nasheim’s heavily atmospheric black metal doesn’t exactly spurn the riff, but instead, uses loping, elongated, minimally showy riffs as the rhythmic shaping of a terrain marked by rich, earthy adornments. The violin and guitar of the extended intro to the opening track are almost more along the lines of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s apocalyptic chamber rock or something out of Max Richter’s masterpiece of melancholy, The Blue Notebooks. The tumbling, doubled guitar arpeggios after the 13-minute mark lead in to a beautiful instrumental section, and although the year is still young, the clean vocal chorus that appears around the 16:30 mark is, particularly in the context of the album’s slow unfolding, a moment of almost breathtaking majesty. There’s a false ending around 17:30 that feels very like a crescendo, which sets off the song’s last few minutes as a hypnotic come-down, a burning off of tension in a coda marked by deeply textured drumwork.
The clean vocals in closing track “Sänk mig i Tystnad” are equally powerful, and although the bands otherwise share almost nothing at all in common, their stirring juxtaposition with the weightier surrounding music is a little reminiscent of the impact Dave Hunt’s earliest clean vocals had on Anaal Nathrakh’s Domine Non Es Dignus. David Ekevärn’s drums strike just the right balance between unobtrusive complement and carefully intricate counterpoint to Grahn’s glacial approach to melodic development. Around six minutes into the closing track, Ekevärn pulls back into a very subtle rock pattern that almost sounds like a slow-motion breakbeat. The album closes without resolution – the strings reappear, simple and keening, but even the nimbly plucked acoustic guitar is eventually chased out of the picture by a resolutely blasting cadence that digs into a furrow and eventually runs the time out in a gathering storm of static.
Jord och Aska may not be as immediate an album as its predecessor Solens Vemod, but by pulling the listener in and carefully asking her to see the hidden organizing principle – like a gardener who works the firm and thawing earth of spring with a clear picture of the future blooms that will emerge from today’s dust and quiet seed – the album questions whether immediacy is really an appropriate metric. Maybe instead of telling an album what we think it ought to give us, the true musical hospitality – and maybe the only way out of today’s over-saturated yet under-engaged climate of musical consumption – is to listen to what the album itself is speaking.
What truths are nested in these irreproachable blooms?