Svartsyn has been one of the more consistent Swedish black metal bands to have emerged over the last two decades, as each release has maintained the raw intensity of the genre without retreading the same territory. With roots tracing back to the early 90s, creator Ornias initially followed a similar path as some of the other second-wave bands before ultimately branching off and venturing onto his own path. 2011’s ‘Wrath Upon the Earth’ and 2013’s ‘Black Testament’ both contained an onslaught of harsh attacks and dark atmosphere but ventured off in completely different directions. This is once again the case with follow-up ‘In Death’, which ratchets the intensity and density even further. It’s a vicious album that overwhelms the senses from start to finish, and while a few of the later moments do blur together it’s still another noteworthy release from Svartsyn.
…there are quite a few passages where the instrumentals slow things down and let a thick atmosphere take hold, allowing the listener to feel as though they are submerged in total darkness
One of the elements that tend to be consistent when following a particular black metal band is the vocals. Typically if a group has the same singer from one album to the next, you have an idea of what the pitch and range will sound like when diving into a particular release. But with Svartsyn this hasn’t been the case, as each effort has utilized different pitches and been recorded slightly differently. ‘Wrath Upon the Earth’ had Ornias sticking with a much lower growl that almost had a death metal sound at times, while ‘Black Testament’ had a higher scream that was buried in reverb. For ‘In Death’ the pitch has changed slightly again, as this time Ornias is hitting even higher pitched shrieks that are spine chilling and cut through the sound with maximum intensity. It also helps that they’ve been placed right at the front of the recording, as rather than being hard to make out the vocals tower over the instrumentals with an ominous presence. Though this may seem like a small nuance, the change-over to the high ranges gives ‘In Death’ even more bite than its predecessors and each verse feels like its tearing itself out of your speakers.
With the vocals feeling more violent and chaotic than ever before, the instrumentation has moved to follow suit. One of the first things that stand out upon turning on opener Seven Headed Snake is that this is an absolutely massive sounding album. During the numerous blasting sections, the guitar and drums intertwine to create a whirlwind that is downright overwhelming but there is enough clarity to the recording to make it possible to pick out individual riffs. Svartsyn doesn’t keep the foot on the gas for the entirety of ‘In Death’ though, as there are quite a few passages where the instrumentals slow things down and let a thick atmosphere take hold, allowing the listener to feel as though they are submerged in total darkness. The slower sections not only help to break things up, but they’re some of the tensest moments on the album and that’s one of the main elements that has led me to come back to ‘In Death’ on a regular basis. Admittedly out of the seven tracks the first five are what I’ve found myself coming back to the most, as by the time you reach the last two there are some similarities to the song structures that make them slightly less distinguishable. But when the rest of the package is this in your face and allows the guitars and drums to consistently overwhelm and tear you to pieces, that provides plenty of reasons to return.
‘In Death’ is as bleak and unrelenting as they come, but it switches things up enough to avoid becoming a mindless blast-fest like so many of the other black metal albums out there. There are still some passages that blur together by the end, but the density of the instrumentation and the tense atmosphere leave a lasting impression. Combine that with the razor sharp production values and I think this may just be my favorite Svartsyn album out of the last few. If you’ve missed out on this long-running Swedish band in the past, now is the time to immerse yourself in total darkness.