Bergen, Norway. Ancestral home to black metal legends like Taake, Gorgoroth, Immortal and Burzum – and for the past decade, Nattverd. Despite this relatively long career, Styggdom (released 31 January on Osmose Productions) is only the band’s second full-length release, but it is proof positive of the benefits of taking your time to hone your craft.
While the album name is, quite literally, an abomination, the music will only be considered abominable by non-black metal audiences. In fact, given the target market proclivities, the only negative criticism Nattverd are likely to field for this record is that it colours too close to the lines of True Norwegian Black Metal without exploring the further fringes of the genre. Blastbeats (provided on a session basis by Tsjuder’s Antichristian); tremolo picking; high-gain, treble-rich tone; rasping and inhuman vocals – all the hallmarks of classic second-wave kvlt black metal make their presence felt on Styggdom. And while that may be a source of complaint for some, it’s a characteristic just as likely to garner praise among die-hards that choose traditional approaches above studio trickery and over-the-top programmed orchestrations. The continued success of no-frills acts like 1349 and Kampfar (among many others) is a testament to this.
What does stand out above many other black metal releases on Styggdom, though, is what I’ve come to recognize as something of a Bergen hallmark: pioneered by Burzum, repetitive use of simple melody passages create a resonant hypnotic effect. This was taken further by Taake, who successfully crafted a complete wall of mesmerizing sound in this way, and really honed by Gaahls Wyrd and Trelldom, where this wall hammered any possibility of conscious thought out of listeners’ heads, especially in a live setting. Nattverd replicate this effect, but take it slightly further: the guitars and drumlines swap places, where melody lines effectively become pure rhythmic devices and the percussion steps to the fore as a true instrument in its own right. The inversion this creates – and is best illustrated on Heksebrann – paves the way for a deeply unsettling, yet thrilling audio experience. The sampled female spoken word section on this track adds to the sense of unease and mystery, creating a fulcrum around which the album mood hinges. The A-Side, before this track, is harsher, while the B-Side (while still heavy – Gamle Erik sets an unforgiving tempo) has a sensitivity and complexity to it. This shines through in the slow-burn on Guds Djevelske Naervaer, the album closer, which carries the listener on a journey through nature’s fury.
The final takeaway for Styggdom is a positive one: all the fury of the early 1990s, but in a well-produced shell, with well-played instruments and very intelligent arrangements that provide a transformative, uplifting experience. This last is one of the true tests for contemporary black metal, for me, and one that Nattverd passes with flying colours: effectively conveying emotions and opinions traditionally perceived as negative, but reframed in such a way as to better its listeners’ lives. A decidedly relevant album, this, and one I heartily recommend. Styggdom straddles both harsh and atmospheric black metal worlds without losing the flavor of the first of losing itself in the vagaries of the second.
You can order album here – https://amzn.to/39kXYmE
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