As a general rule, I try to avoid clichés when writing reviews, especially the particularly hackneyed phrases like ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover.’ However, in the case of Upon My Cremation Pyre, the debut full-length by Swedish trio Jordablod, you can actually tell quite a bit about the record from looking at the cover art. To a certain extent, it reminds me of the work of expressionist painters. For those not familiar with expressionism, it was a movement wherein artists attempted to convey emotional states in their works instead of representing reality. A lot of the time, particularly in the work of Edvard Munch (The Scream), those expressions were of inner turmoil of some kind. The strange masks or faces that adorn the album’s cover, the predominantly red color palate, the heavy brushstrokes that give it such a rich visual texture – that cover paining was not the product of a healthy, happy mind.
We’re not here to talk about art, though – this is an album review. But I’ve lingered on the cover art because I think there’s also something expressionistic in the band’s approach to black metal as well. Jordablod definitely aren’t your typical Swedish black metal band – there’s no Marduk or Watain influence in the band’s sound at all. The first thing that struck me when listening to the album is how different the guitar tones are than what you would ordinarily hear on a black metal record. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call them warm, somewhere between a jazzy tone and the most recent Uncle Acid record. These guys are clearly top-flight musicians, and the care that went into composing the record is obvious, particularly since they seem to draw influence from a wide variety of places. Album opener “En Route to the Unknown” sounds influenced by Gustav Holst’s The Planets (possibly the same movement hat inspired Iommi to write “Black Sabbath”), while “Upon My Creation Pyre” and parts of “Liberator of Eden” are based around a more Arabic-sounding scale. Instrumental “Hin håle” has more of a spacey/psychedelic feel to it, as do parts of the epic “Of Fiery Passion.” The guitar solos tend to have an NWOBHM feel to them, and the drumming is loose in jazzy in the same way as Bosse-de-Nage. There’s plenty of second-wave tremolo-and-blasting and well, but that scarecely seems to be the band’s dominant mode. This album is far more nuanced than that.
The alum seems to be just as inscrutable lyrically as it is musically. Song titles like “Liberator of Eden” and “Chants for the Black One” certainly have that familiar sulfuric stench of Satan about them, the devil on this album seems to be more of a philosophical construct that owes a larger debt to Faust than to anything written by Crowley or LeVay. I don’t know if the record is a full-fledged concept album or not, but it does seem to follow an individual on some sort of dark mystical/spiritual/occult journey that ultimately ends in his death and cremation. This is one of those records that I wish came with a lyric sheet, because I’m sure the words for these songs are just as well thought-out as the music.
Ultimately, Jordablod have produced an album that both works within and expands upon the boundaries of black metal. If I had to describe it in one sentence, I’d say that it almost sounds like a black metal version of Blood Incantation’s Starspawn, crossed with a more jazz-influenced version of Vanhelgd, but with an added Eastern-influence. But even that only scratches the surface of how fucking good Upon My Cremation Pyre really is – it just might be the best black metal album I’ve heard thus far in 2017, and there have been a lot of good ones thus far this year. If you’re into black metal at all, don’t sleep on this one.
Upon My Cremation Pyre will be available on May 26 via Iron Bonehead.