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Vattnet Viskar’s Sky Swallower Breaks Some Genre Molds And Offers Welcome Glimpses Of Hope

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My biggest gripe about black metal is the often formulaic approach to songwriting.  When a genre leans so heavily on such rigid stylistic elements it can be difficult to sound different.  But certain recent bands have managed to break the mold and infuse a healthy dose of diversity and vibrancy into their sonic palettes, thereby evolving the genre in new and exciting directions.  Mutilation Rites, Castavet, and Deafheaven immediately jump to mind, and now we can add Vattnet Viskar to this list as well.  No, this band is not from Sweden as their name may suggest; VV are from New Hampshire, but their temperament certainly suggests a worldliness far beyond the East Coast of America.

Vattnet Viskar’s debut album for Century Media, Sky Swallower (released on 9/3), offers a bit more variety than standard black metal fare. For one, the band employs major-key progressions in a few noteworthy spots, creating an undercurrent of hope and dare I say OPTIMISM — a quality rarely utilized in bleak Winter’s champion genre. VV doesn’t employ this theme nearly as much as say, Deafheaven does, but this divergence from the usual bleakness is always welcome and is especially apparent in the third track, “Monarch”.

Another simple yet effective choice to open up black metal’s regularly iron-clad coffin is to implement noticeable space throughout the album.  VV manage to create ebbs and flows that make their heaviest parts soar with increased purpose. When “Fog of Apathy” opens with an extended ambient section, it’s almost as if the band is giving us a chance to get ready for the subsequent pummeling onslaught.  Both opening track “New Alchemy” and “Breath of the Almighty” create a stark moodiness by contrasting the br00tality of each song with delicate, deliberate breaks in the middle that again give us truly dynamic peaks and valleys.  Feedback-laden ambient transitional track “As I Stared Into The Sky” offers a similar effect — when following epic album closer “Apex” drops, its emphasis is so much more profound due to the preceding respite from VV’s violent fury.

And while many black metal outfits tend to stick to the genre’s straightforward percussion approach, Vattnet Viskar often finds a way to break free with slightly more stripped-down and unique rhythmic patterns. Even when the guitars stay the same, proficient drummer Seamus Menihane changes it up enough to bring some other genre influences to the band’s sound. Various drum patterns in “Mythos” and several parts in album closer “Apex” immediately jump to mind. The latter track mentioned, as well as “Breath of the Almighty”, also use emphasized hits in a fairly non-black metal way that serves to heighten the tension of songs which otherwise might feel too obvious.

All in all, a worthy contribution to black metal’s continually shifting shape…

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