Vattnet Viskar’s Settler Has Nearly Arrived Home
When discussing 2015’s Settler, Vattnet Viskar guitarist Chris Alfieri stated that the album was about “pushing to become something else, something better; a transformation and touching the divine.” Though that statement might initially remind of a certain black metal band’s purported transcendence, in practice, there’s no such pretension to Vattnet Viskar’s music or philosophy. Since 2011, the band have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for growth and progression, and though the divine might not be fully tangible yet, it’s incontestable that Vattnet Viskar have found a unique niche for themselves within the wider scope of USBM. Settler sees Vattnet Viskar developing more fully into their multifaceted sound, compacting their post-y black metal into a stretched-out yet cohesive work that’s fueled by modern and old-school elements alike.
For a band whose members are as young as 22, Vattnet Viskar sure are nostalgic. The New Hampshire quartet’s first two releases were wistful, certainly; the ephemeral waves of sound that paid tribute to the progenitors of black metal and spoke of the band’s New Hampshire origins were more than a little homesick. Those tendencies, both stylistic and harmonic, are more pronounced than ever on Settler: in the thundering build-up of “Heirs;” in the rippling tremolo of “Impact;” in the chiming pulse of closer “Coldwar” that gives way to a shreddy solo inflected with unbridled optimism. This nostalgia isn’t new – over the last few years, we’ve seen this kind of thing run rampant in blackgaze and post-metal alike. But why it works so well for Vattnet Viskar is due to the band’s consciousness of the modern world. They’re not mired in their reminiscence; the band’s music and their Cascadian-influenced, socially-conscious lyrical themes reflect their sharp awareness of current happenings. The band deftly combine the organic & synthetic – they write on computers and use samples & noise that would make Prurient proud (“Heirs”), but also utilize raw feedback and boast a natural-sounding drum performance from Seamus Menihane.
In addition to that awareness of new and old, the band exercise mastery over concision and economy, both with respect to individual songs and to the album as a whole. The band generate narrative impact via brevity instead of letting tracks drag on for twenty minutes with all the coherence of your senile relatives’ alcohol-soaked recollections. Settler is more cohesive than Sky Swallower, too – there are fewer of those abrupt, Agalloch-esque transitions from clean to soft and more harmonic and timbral mixing. Overall, Settler is sonically more consistent, and heavier for it, eschewing the acoustic interludes and clean passages of previous releases. Instead, it works more with harmony and dynamics, tempering feel-good chords with waves of dissonance (“Glory,” “Yearn”) and matching airy tremolo passages with grounded, stonery riffs that grumble over slippery rhythms.
Though the mix of old and new does an awful lot for Vattnet Viskar, it also occasionally causes the band’s identity to be somewhat conflicted. The band run the full gamut of subgenres through their exploration of black metal/doom/hardcore/post-whatever, and only the deftest of artists could cycle back and forth through these without getting themselves confused every so often. And that’s pretty much what Settler is: a masterful treatment of old and new that doesn’t always seem to know where it is or where it’s going. The closing wall of blast beats in “Colony” runs headlong into a mid-tempo groove that’s almost campy in its positivity; the majestic dissonant climax in “Yearn” would have been better suited at a later place in the album. In general, the homogeneity of the track lengths (nearly all around the 4-minute mark) makes it somewhat difficult to distinguish songs from one another, a fact that’s not helped by the sloppy mastering job. But while Settler may not yet have its final destination fully realized, Vattnet Viskar are damn close, and the creativity they’ve displayed on every one of their releases makes it clear that the band won’t rest until they’ve found their true home.