Svart Lotus – Som et Vondt År


Tor Risdal Stavenes might be more familiar to you as Seidemann, the bassist in Norwegian black metal heavyweights, 1349. Svart Lotus started in 2012 as his solo project but gravitated towards a full band for 2016’s self-titled EP. Since then, the quartet have released their debut LP (see 2018’s Stemmer fra dypet) and joined the boutique roster at Hellstain Productions to unleash their sophomore effort. Som et Vondt År translates from Norwegian into English as “like a bad year”, and the preponderance of death-doom in the group’s latest black metal offering suggests that we can find a literal meaning in the title of this record.

Pedigree is almost a certainty when you put a Norwegian black metal band under the microscope. The sound that evolved from this oil-rich Scandinavian country in the 1990s is the true blueprint for the genre at its most extreme – it exacts high standards. Norwegians take their black metal seriously enough to know that middle-class hipsters with a love of shoegaze music will never be custodians of their art. This is clear in the ominous keyboards of ‘Fyrelogi (intro)’, which ring out like a rising creature from the ashes as gothic choir samples meditate in the background like tortured souls in limbo. There is no messing around here. ‘Distraction Industry’ fires straight into the lo-fi extreme metal from the first chord, like early Hellhammer and Bathory. Anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between black and death metal will after one listen to this song – black metal is an inhumane form of music with an abundance of humanity in its delivery. The double-kick drums are not overproduced or enhanced in any way – this is what they sound like in the rehearsal room. You’d think Stavenes had a cup of raw sewage in his mouth.

A ferocious scream of agony introduces the main riff of the title-track. Svart Lotus show that you don’t need to down-tune your guitars to be heavy. The axemen love the chill of the tritone chord as much as Finnish heroes, Hooded Menace. Musically, this up-tempo slog has everything you want from an evil black metal song. Imagine Mayhem covering a slimy Morbid Angel track from Blessed Are the Sick. The group are not shy about their influences. ‘Indifference and Wrath’ is a play on the Celtic Frost song ‘Innocence and Wrath’, only this version throttles your senses by transitioning from gory death-doom to blast beats in the finale.

Som et Vondt År does not aim to revolutionise the black metal genre, but it does a good job of creating an enjoyable listening experience by writing the spookiest death-doom bastardisation known to Norway. Nevertheless, melodies seep through the mix like a leaking boiler. ‘Hat og forakt’ showcases the first sign of a clean guitar by imitating the resonance of a harpsichord. Listen to the pathos of the emotive baritone voice at the higher end of the scale – Ihsahn uses a similar pitch on Emperor’s classic IX Equilibrium. You can hear the gothic melodrama of The Mission in the vocal delivery and a dance macabre thrill in the rhythms. Chanting the chorus with shouting backing vocals works a treat here.

Svart Lotus have a wide repertoire of riffs that take precedence over the atmospherics of their music. ‘Lurking Fear’ is the closest you’ll come to a black metal band playing death-doom. Only in ‘Cryptic Lights’, towards the end of the album, do they fall into a predictable orthodoxy that demands its creators douse their faces in corpse paint. Even this is worth a repeat listen as vocals spew out of the mix like a person coughing up a stomach ulcer.

Do you want forty minutes of contemplative black metal with sorrowful guitar patterns and agonising vocal projections that balance self-pity and self-empowerment? The answer would have been a resounding “yes” during the Covid lockdowns, and there’s no reason to be any less enthusiastic in 2024.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 01/03/2024

Record Label: Hellstain Productions / Nekroelvis Records

Standout tracks: Som et vondt år; Indifference and Wrath; Hat og forakt

Suggested Further Listening: Mork – Dypet (2023), Bathory – Bathory (1984), Dantalion – Fatum (2023)