Pagan-black metal group Ehlder is the latest project of Swedish multi-instrumentalist
Stefan Sandström (also known as Graav or Graavehlder). Active in the Swedish black/pagan metal scene since the early 2000s, and perhaps best known for his black metal project Armagedda, or the more rock-oriented LIK, Graavehlder has earned a reputation for himself as one of the more innovative and progressive artists in the Swedish scene. With his first release since 2012’s Lönndom record Til Trevaren, Graavehlder definitely confirms this – and delivers what might be one of the best black metal albums of the year to boot.
Thundering out of the gate with a riff that recalls Vikingligr Veldi-era Enslaved, Nordabetraktelse picks up some fantastic momentum and doesn’t really let up throughout its fifty-minute length. The structure of the album is excellent: the hypnotic, repetitive riffing of the first two tracks paves the way to some more melodic moments on album centerpiece “Hedningadrapa” and some truly ferocious, Bathory-inspired black metal on “Gammelmod.”
Ehlder wears its “pagan” moniker seriously and well, eschewing the easy clichés that can come with the genre in favor of injecting the pagan themes of nature and ancient mystery directly into the music itself. There is an unmistakably primitive, atavistic feel to Nordabetraktelse, particularly in its first half. The music is genuinely pagan in the tradition of bands like In the Woods… or Ulver, rather than the anachronistic hoedowns of which some more folk-oriented metal bands have been guilty.
Although most of the bands to which I’ve compared this record so far have been Norwegian, there is a distinctly Swedish feel to the whole affair, from the forest bonfire on the album cover to the lyrics exclusively in Graavehlder’s native tongue. Coupled with the honest portrayal of the album’s pagan convictions, the overall effect is a decidedly honest and raw record, where nothing feels tacked on or pretentious.
Musically, much the same can be said. The guitar and drum work are excellent without being overly flashy or technical. Riffs, for the most part, are hypnotic and straightforward rather than complex and technical. The mid-to-quick-tempo drums underpin the cycling riffs very well, occasionally rising to a pleasingly rapid-fire fury on tracks like “Tagen.” The vocals are a highlight, a cold and harsh but comprehensible deep guttural that evokes the harsh boreal landscapes of the album art and the terrifying tales of elder dread that haunt the northern wastes. The most apparent modern comparison I can think of is to Finnish pagan metal band Havukruunu, who similarly evoke an honest, personal image of the pagan past.
It is hard to find much to complain about in an album that has clearly been so honestly and expertly put together. If I had one criticism, I’d argue that album closer “Varerytm i Varganord,” which consists of five minutes of unaccompanied, eerie tribal drumming, is a little out of place. The track is an excellent closer, and I love to hear this almost martial/industrial experimentation, but, having listened to it, I can’t help but wish there were more such experimentation on what, sonically, is a record very much rooted in black metal.
Ehdler have set themselves up as one of the most interesting new black metal bands to come out of the Swedish scene, and Nordabetraktelse is a must-listen for any black metal fan, and an excellent entry point into the modern Swedish scene. This is an album for the dusk when the lengthening shadows overtake the daylight, and the mysteries of the old world lurk renewed in the boles of the ancient trees.
“Varerytm i Varganord”