Henrik Palm – Nerd Icon Review

The 2015 breakup of Sweden’s In Solitude left many a metalhead heart ailing due to their ability to both evolve smartly and keep it true enough to please the most denim and leather of hordes. Sure, all the texture and goth added to Sister certainly expanded their sound, but they never lost sight of The Almighty Riff; nor did they lose sight of writing really interesting, memorable songs that often hinted at a progressive mindset.

Release date: April 19, 2024. Label: Svart Records.
Everyone from the band has stayed busy since the split, but guitarist Henrik Palm is the only one really setting out on his own, both in the use of his real name (well, real middle and last names) and by maintaining the adventurous spirit In Solitude had established by their end. Compared to his previous band ‒ which never got close to abandoning those true metal roots ‒ Palm’s solo work frees him up to look to whatever influences he sees fit. Sure, there’s still a fair amount of metal and goth in there, but on Nerd Icon (his third), there are also touches of art rock, proto punk, neo psychedelia, indie alternative, space rock, chamber pop, and way more, making it equal parts gloomy, playful, punchily rocking, trippy, and escapist. It’s a rather diverse record that flows perfectly (if occasionally suddenly) from song to song, always maintaining a sense of wonder and deliberate, long game melodicism on what can only be described as an impeccably performed and produced record. (You wanna get lush? Come on, let’s get lush.)

The approach to melody comes through instantly on opener “Instrumental Funeral,” an opening ‒ you guessed it ‒ instrumental track that sets the stage and then some with oddly pretty (or prettily odd) layering of acoustic and distorted guitars, a touch of thunder, and hints of psychedelia through its organs. It also features a rather sudden stop to match the sudden start of the ensuing “Subway Morgue,” the first of many hints that Nerd Icon is far more than the sum of its parts. “Subway Morgue” itself is as close as the album gets to a straightforward rocker, driven by catchy, open chord riffs, an understated solo that perfectly grows out of the established themes, and Palm’s rather affable approach to singing (imagine Voivod’s Snake growing up on Alice Cooper and 80s synth pop instead of all that snotty punk).

Palm’s approach is both less-is-more and more-is-more. He’s never playing particularly complex riffs, but the deft layering of guitars, bass, drums, and vocals with elements like synths, piano, and sax give Nerd Icon a rather deep sound even if the song foundations come closer to The Stooges than Rush. “Swim to the Light,” for example, does things more big than complex (big punch, big synths, big use of hi-hat), but some deft vocal phrasing tricks and bombast in the drums (courtesy of a rather brilliant Daniel Moilanen) make it something much more. Lyrics about stopping the doom scrolling and embracing the good parts of life show the emotional complexity of the album as well. Yeah, stuff sucks, and getting bogged down is super easy, but most of us still have reasons to smile as well.

Nerd Icon gets some of its best moments by fully embracing moods or songwriting styles you might not necessarily expect, especially if all you know from Palm is The World, the Flesh, the Devil or his brief stint in Ghost. At one end of the mood spectrum is “Talismanic Love,” an unabashedly beautiful little track rooted in the musical heartbeat of pulsating synths and a simple acoustic guitar pattern, topped with a sensitive, gorgeous vocal performance from Palm that renders the track as searching as it is sensitive. It manages to be as close as Nerd Icon gets to a dream pop take on A Saucerful of Secrets, in its own way.

At the other end is the mysterious “From the Grave,” which picks up a bit of the Alice Cooper influence from Palm’s previous album Poverty Metal and takes it even further into creepy art rock territory. The piano is both serene and spooky, while the blunt riffs are some of the heaviest on the record. Palm’s vocal performance is vulnerable, searching, and wounded while also seeming rather content with his situation, an impression doubled by the chorus lyrics: “See me crawl up from the grave / catch you later in outer space / I have so much more to give.” It gets as crushing as anything on the album but then completely opens up for a sax solo to play us out. Imagine Cooper’s “Dead Babies” written for Radiohead to use on The Bends but ending up on Nick Cave’s Tender Prey, with the sax guy from Lost Boys showing up at the studio. That makes sense, right? Sure. Embrace it.

That mess of a comparison is kind of the beauty of Henrik Palm’s solo output. He refuses to create barriers for his music but also isn’t forcing anything. Palm manages to pull from all these diverse corners of rock history without a single second of Nerd Icon being even the tiniest bit pretentious. He isn’t a tourist, because tourists merely visit. He lives this stuff, and applies his personality to his influences, as opposed to the other way around. The result is a fun, soothing, exciting, often brooding, and ultimately very relatable album from a guy that is rapidly building a pretty neat legacy by forging out on his own.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

  1. I’ve been listening to this since last weekend and am thoroughly enjoying it. “Poverty Metal” was a highlight of 2020 and I’m glad to hear Mr. Palm continue to explore his own unique corner of the spectralverse.


  2. In Sweden we don’t really have middle names. It is quite common to have more than one given name, and you choose which is the name you wish to be addressed by – “tilltalsnamn”. This gets a bit lost in translation outside of Sweden.


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