Sunday, 4 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Bhleg - "Solarmegin"

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/02/2018
Label: Nordvis Produktion

“if you want totally transcendent sacred music, the kind of music that, for good and ill, feels like a field recording of pagan rites, you merely need to tap into the Swedish black metal of Bhleg.”

“Solarmegin” CD//DD track listing

1. Alvstrale
2. Sunnanljus
3. Alyr – Helgedomen
4. Gudomlig gronska
5. Alstrande sol
6. Livslagans flammande sken
7. Kraftsang till Sunna
8. Hymn till skymningen
9. Skuggspel
10. Solvagnens flykt
11. Karleksrit
12. Fro (vaxtlighetens fader)
13. Solens ankomst

The Review:
Growing up enmeshed in Catholic belief, you can get a real flavor for the Gothic trappings of ritual.  Frankly, it’s pretty metal when you stumble into the occasional mass that looks like the baptism scene in The Godfather: palpable clouds of incense, pipe organ blaring, a waif singing Ave Maria, and the tortured images of martyrs and messiahs emblazoned in stained glass, marble and gold.  The reality is that most churches now, catholic or otherwise, have gone the Joel Osteen/rad youth pastor route and look like a midlevel convention hall, with modernized “worship pop-rock” to bum you out even harder than the sermons.  Now, if you want totally transcendent sacred music, the kind of music that, for good and ill, feels like a field recording of pagan rites, you merely need to tap into the Swedish black metal of Bhleg.
Bhleg’s second full-length, “Solarmegin”, is a grandly romantic, but strikingly naturalist opus of nature-worship.  Sung entirely in Swedish, the 90 minute cycle is as forbidding as any requiem mass, but contains some fundamentally sublime moments, with occasional missteps.  Intro track “Alvstrale” captures the reverence for nature that typifies Bhleg’s output – ambient tones, acoustic fingerpicking, birdsong and folk percussion instruments act as a centering prelude to the harrowing, distorted tremolo assault of “Sunnanljus”.  The rousing gang vocals that occasionally punctuate “Solarmegin” have both a martial and joyous tone – I’m tempted to say “Viking” but it feels much headier than that reductive label.  The mournful tone of tracks like “Alyr – Helgedomen” and “Alstrande sol” only accentuate the emotional dynamics on display; and, with my complete ignorance of Swedish, this is all purely tonal and musical.  But then again I never understood most of the Latin lyrics for church hymns or the Italian (and occasionally German) that formed the structure of most operas, and that never diminished my appreciation for the power behind the words.
The major issue at the heart of “Solarmegin”, unfortunately, is the punishing length.  I love delving into a long, enigmatic black metal album, but at 90 minutes, it’s hard to absorb, especially when some of the tracks just feel too long or, in some cases, not up to the same production standards as others.  “Hymn till skymningen” just sounds strangely lo-fi in comparison with the full force, nearly Iron Maiden-esque, bold gallop of “Kraftsang till Sunna”.  “Solvagnens flykt” has a distracting lack of midrange, and “Fro (vaxtlighetens fader)” suffers from a weird midsong rhythm change that doesn’t really work.  These could have been compelling EP tracks later, or been reworked into a second release.  Even the mysterious, folky closer, “Solens ankomst”, goes on just long enough to feel repetitive.  And that’s a real shame because Bhleg are really excellent songwriters and musicians.  There is so much to enjoy here that a few stray tracks can’t diminish my hearty endorsement.  But then again sometimes sacred music is forbidding, difficult, and punishing.  Maybe the duo behind Bhleg is exorcising something beyond my surface reading here.  They’ve certainly captured something unique and moving on this monument to their beliefs, and I’m anxiously awaiting their next journey into transcendent metal worship.

“Solarmegin” is available here

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