I mentioned in my review of Sagenland’s debut back in January how strong black metal from the Netherlands has been for the past decade, and the sophomore effort from Kjeld is another perfect example. Formed back in 2003 with the ambition of merging traditional black metal aggression with atmosphere inspired by the nature and history of their home region, Ôfstân comes nearly six years after its predecessor and pushes the atmospheric side of the band’s sound into even more grandiose directions. With just as many moments offering a beautiful sense of tranquility before a raging storm comes through to shake things up, there’s a lot to take in throughout Kjeld’s latest and it’s clear that the long gap between their two albums has been well utilized.
Part of what makes Ôfstân exciting to listen to is how closely the melodic and aggressive elements are woven together, as rather than having specific passages where darker melodies take over and the abrasive edges take a backseat, the two sides feel intrinsically linked throughout the album. Opening song “Betsjoend” is a great example, as you’re immediately drawn in with haunting melodies that dance over top of the blasting drums and barbed wire edges of the guitar riffs. Sometimes the atmosphere brings an icy chill to it that makes you feel like you’re making your way through a fierce storm, while other times it comes through much more subdued and has a beautiful yet somber tone that sucks you right in. Although the individual elements are sometimes familiar, with the shifts from melody into much harsher ranges bringing early Enslaved and Blut Aus Nord’s Memoria Vetusta trilogy to mind, Kjeld is still able to retain an identity of their own and the power of some of these songs is likely to bring listeners back again and again. The jaggedness and twisted tonality on the title track and a few others also channels some Shrine of Insanabilis which ups the appeal for me, as the immensity of the material really comes through during these moments. Also worth noting is the drum work of Fjildslach, as he utilizes some interesting fills and shakes things up instead of just blasting monotonously the entire time.
The vocals are another area where the band is able to provide a bit more variety than listeners might initially be anticipating. While vocalist Skier utilizes a raspier scream that provides some additional jagged edges and feels like a knife cutting through the layers of instrumentation, you’ll also find that there are a number of different sung passages that bring a slight folk leaning to a few of the songs. “Asbran” has shouted cleaner ranges behind the screams while “Skaad” features chants that feel like they’re emanating from a deep cave. Admittedly not every one of these pitches comes through sounding completely natural, as the aforementioned “Asbran” is a bit awkward, but I can appreciate that Kjeld regularly tries to keep their performance dynamic rather than keeping the same repetitive scream for almost an hour.
There are a few passages towards the end where it starts to seem like Kjeld is in danger of treading too close to the same ideas from earlier on, but as a whole this remains a stunning release that pushes the band to new heights. With atmosphere that captures rage and serenity in equal capacity, there’s a lot to take in throughout this album but those who give it the time will find another highlight of Dutch black metal. Ôfstân is available from Heidens Hart Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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