By: Daniel Jackson
Black metal, like many genres, is a genre of two minds. One mind is of ever-evolving progress, and the other of unflinching orthodoxy. Some bands will make a concerted effort to try something new and push a genre forward, and others spend their whole discography finding new ways to keep an old, worn style interesting. Black metal has never seen a shortage of by-the-book bands, satisfied with doing what’s been done before.
Even now, more than 20 years removed from the early classics of its second wave, there are scores of black metal bands playing at 90s nostalgia. These bands and albums are nothing if not dedicated to the old style, and have their own take on the genre's inherently harsh production. But there is still something about virtually every band in this niche that gives them a feeling of existing in the here and now.
Sjelferd is different.
Sjelferd existed for only a brief span in the mid-90s and never released the demo they recorded in 1996. Shortly thereafter they changed their name to Majestic, and did release a demo in 1997 under that name. In something of a recurring theme for the band, they weren’t terribly pleased with the results they got in-studio.
(Please note that certain other bands included in this zine are known for having suspect or outright racist worldviews, especially during this timeframe)
It’s now 2017, and more than 20 years later Sjelferd have gotten themselves back together again to record their original demo the way they wanted it to sound back then, giving us ‘Fortid’ in March. This isn’t one member taking it upon themselves to resurrect the past, either. Every member of the band that played on the original recording appears here as well, save for original bassist Christian (replaced by Asbjørn), who moved away shortly after the band dissolved. Guitarist, vocalist and keyboardist Mikael (Morloc) explains their reasoning for returning to these songs after so many years:
“The short answer is Nostalgia. We get together on occasion and talk about the old days and Daniel [Sjelferd drummer Nalok] had dug up the old recordings of the first demo we made, and we had to admit to ourselves that the old songs were not without their charm.”
As for their sharp self-criticism in the interview clip above, Mikael elaborates on their feeling then and now:
“The issue was not necessarily with the quality of the sound, but rather with the performance of the band. Due to inexperience, we weren’t the best of musicians back then and that shows on the recording. We had only played together for about 5-6 months before we decided to go into a studio and record our first, and only, demo. It would have been wise for us to have waited longer. A lot longer.”
This leads us to the music itself. These songs are, for obvious reasons, very much of their time. They were written in the mid-90s, and that personality and character carries over into the current day. The riffs are kept simple and direct, and the keyboard used largely to add sonic depth or accompany a central melody. The drums aren’t overly flashy, choosing the route of acting as an unshakable foundation from which the rest of the music is built. The production bears some resemblance to Dimmu Borgir’s original recording of “Stormblast”, though updated for added richness and clarity. Interestingly, a production befitting such nostalgic material wasn’t something that the band had in mind to start with. Mikael elaborates:
“Capturing the sound of that era was not a goal we had. Given that the whole recording, mixing and mastering was done in my own studio we were trying to give it the best sound possible. The fact that we were able to capture the tone and feel of the era was more luck than anything else. The choice of keyboard may have contributed to that.”
Indeed, the voices chosen for the keyboards are an essential part of why this EP works so well. They feel and sound as if they’ve been plucked from Norwegian black metal’s prime years and dropped into the present day. The same applies to the rest of ‘Fortid’. Mikael indicates that their influences at the time were bands like Gehenna (Nor), Emperor, Satyricon and others and Sjelferd would have fit in perfectly on a show featuring a combination of those bands, at least as they existed in the mid-90s.
All of these aspects put together are what makes ‘Fortid’ so special. Both the band and their songs each existed right in the thick of one of metal’s most historic scenes. This EP is a snapshot of a very specific time and place in metal lore, when the forward thinking bands of the era were only beginning to evolve into something beyond their initial sounds. For someone with an interest or even fond memories of this distinct time and place in metal’s past, ‘Fortid’ should be an absolute joy.
But for as much as we’ve dwelled on the past in this review, the next question of Sjelferd’s future remains up in the air. It stands to reason that, were the band to continue, they couldn’t capture this same kind of lightning in a bottle, but are they even looking to continue? ‘Fortid’ provides its own unique closure, but Mikael indicates that the question remains open:
“It was meant to be a one-time thing, and yes, to close this chapter in our history. But both me and Christer, who wrote the original songs, currently have a lot of material to work with and we are in the process of making new songs. If this is to be another Sjelferd release or something else remains to be seen, but you may not have heard the last of us just yet.”
Band info: bandcamp || facebook