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Album Review: VILDHJARTA Måsstaden Under Vatten

8.5 Reviewer
Score

In the decade since Swedish djenters Vildhjarta dropped their debut Måsstaden, the album has earned its place within the halls of Meshuggah worship. Guitarist Calle Thomer and drummer Buster Odeholm have kept themselves busy with the blackened doomcore band Humanity’s Last Breath, but the prospect of them reuniting with founding guitarist Daniel Bergström and vocalist Vilhelm Bladin was bound to excite fans of detuned syncopation. Vildhjarta essentially picks up where they left off—with 80 minutes of their distinct brand of progressive, groovy metal. While it’s quite a lot of progressive groove for one sitting, Vildhjarta’s mastery of hypnotic chaos remains inexorable on Måsstaden Under Vatten.

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Vildhjarta coined the term “Thall” to describe their music. In contrast to Humanity’s Last Breath calling their music “Evil,” “Thall” can mean whatever listeners want it to. Suffice to say these guys prioritize atmosphere as well as odd time signatures and extended range guitars. “Lavender Haze” gets down to business right away with a barrage of staccato chugs, but quickly fills in the gaps with a chilling soundscape. Essentially, this is like Ion Dissonance, but you can vibe to it.

The album’s ambient take on progressive heaviness blends tracks together to the point where the single trifecta of “När De Du Älskar Kommer Tillbaka Från De Döda,” “Kaos 2” and “Toxin” passes by like a continuous song. This also results from Vildhjarta rejecting traditional song structure. The songs move from disjointed rhythmic tapestries to rousing melodies and haunting clean guitar drones with such fluidity that the abject pandemonium morphs into an enveloping tapestry of constantly-evolving aggression.

In fact, the album’s first single “Den Helige Anden” (originally released in 2019), could merit comparisons to 2000s Katatonia albums with its melancholic modulations before the poly-rhythmic beatdowns take over. Speaking of older songs, the instrumental “Måsstadens Nationalsång” shares its name with the eighth track on Måsstaden—but it’s almost five minutes longer. The track emphasizes Vildhjarta’s knack for riffs that take several measures to repeat. It’s best to sit back and let the music move instead of trying to extrapolate motifs right off the bat.

It might take a few minutes to follow the path Vildhjarta paves with their songs, but make no mistake: everything they write is meticulously orchestrated. It’s hard to even call the face-breaking grooves of a cut like “Brännmärkt” breakdowns. They never stop, and they’re far too complicated to be an actual breaking down of anything. To take things farther, cuts like “Passage Noir” and “Heartsmear” pack some massive dynamic shifts to keep everyone guessing, ranging from slow-burning, molasses-caked riffs, hammering blast beats, rousing melodies or devastating drops.

The amount of musical chemistry necessary to pull off music like this is astounding enough, but Vildhjarta clearly approached this album with more than its essential components in mind. Longer cuts like “Vagabond” emphasize the tapestries of mood-setting interludes that flesh out the band's apocalyptic bottom-string abuse, but this attention to detail also carries over into shorter tracks like “Phantom Assassin” and “Detta Drömmars Sköte en Slöja Till Ormars Näste.” The depth of the aura is as impressive as the blunt-force trauma, creating a labyrinth of abusive sonics.

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Still, an hour and 20 minutes of anything is a lot to digest, especially considering Vildhjarta essentially doubled down on Måsstaden. There’s really nothing in “Mitt Trötta Hjarta” or the “Sunset Sunrise” duology that remotely breaks the mold these guys set 10 years ago. The thing is, who else does this the way they do? No one can replicate the combination of Bladin’s monstrous vocals and Odeholm’s unpredictable beats, or Bergström and Thomer’s maddening approach to writing riffs—much less make it engrossing enough to zone out and coast along the choppy waters. 

And yet, Vildhjarta still throws upbeat tempo-changes into “Penny Royal Poison” to cleanse the palate before more intoxicating filth. This would explain why the 10-minute closer “Paaradiso” isn’t anywhere as much of a chore to finish as one might expect. The band shifts from anthemic frenzy and harmonic splendor to fusion jazz dexterity and post-rock expansiveness in a heartbeat, maintaining thrilling sonics from front to back.

Måsstaden Under Vatten finds Vildhjarta at the top of their game—a game with rules they invented themselves. It’s to their credit that this album feels as fresh as it does after the djent fad came and went. These guys took this detuned, polyrhythmic sound and made it a kaleidoscopic trip into another dimension. It's certainly an intimidating venture to those unaccustomed to their style (or just want as much of said style as possible), but this album’s balance of technical brutality, haunting ritualism and inexplicable catchiness can’t be replicated.

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