Since their formation in 2011, Stilla has been releasing some of the most interesting black metal Sweden has to offer. Over the course of three full length albums their style has evolved, retaining its roots in harsh, icy riffs that recall the frigid nature of the band’s homeland while adding in haunting synth lines that give off a progressive flair and add to the haunting atmospherics. For their fourth record Synviljor the group has continued along this same path, mixing in gorgeous and textured melodies with violent outbursts that often come without warning. It feels more like a refinement than a true evolution when compared to the leap between the previous couple of full lengths, but the writing remains as engaging as ever.
Synviljor opens with its spacey synth work first, providing an eerie melody that makes it feel like the Northern Lights on the album’s cover are about to pull you into another dimension. But the calm doesn’t last for long, as only thirty seconds in and the harsh guitar riffs have kicked things up into a dense wall of sound. Stilla continue to be masters at transitioning from reflective and melancholic passages into violent, chaotic ones that are on par with the best Scandinavian black metal has to offer. For those who are discovering the band for the very first time and didn’t experience the previous three albums, this may prove to be jarring and it’s likely to take a few times through to make heads or tails of all the nuances. But if your listening tastes are anything like mine, that’s a large part of the appeal and the fluid nature of the writing portrays both a chaotic and playful nature to the material. The acoustic passages and synth arrangements play a large role in the album’s atmosphere, as they bring imagery of staring out at a frigid landscape in an isolated cabin to mind, bringing both a reflective and sense of the unknown with them. But just as quickly as these passages appear, they transition over to raging guitars that come across with the force of a psychotic breakdown. It’s not unfamiliar territory for Stilla, but it remains just as stunning across repeated listens and continues to differentiate them from much of the genre.
The instrumentation by itself would be enough to win over quite a few listeners, but the vocal work of A. Petterson continues to elevate Stilla’s material to another level. He has one of those pitches that sound downright terrifying at their peaks, with the screaming taking on a commanding presence that feels like the perfect representation of a winter blizzard. But it’s not just abrasiveness for the entire album, as alongside backing vocals from P. Stille Synviljor occasionally opens into cleaner ranges that add to the overall mystique and enhance some of the melancholic passages. It’s downright overwhelming at times, particularly on tracks like “Över blodiga vidder” where Petterson howls in a truly primal manner, but that’s likely to draw you back for more after the first listen.
Compared to the group’s previous discography Synviljor took a little longer to sink in, which is part of the reason this review comes a few months after its release. But the amount of depth the material has to offer more than makes up for it, and even though the approach doesn’t differ that far from Stilla’s previous endeavors it’s still unconventional and powerful enough to stand out. With plenty of nuances underneath the surface this album should deserve to be in your stereo for some time to come, and with a new Bergraven release coming in March there’s even more craziness on the horizon. Synviljor is out now on Nordvis Produktion.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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