Hailing from the American heartlands yet taking their name for the Swedish for “the water is whispering”, Vattnet Viskar have always been an innovative, multi-faceted band. On the one hand, their clear first love is for the more familial strains of second wave black metal with its speeding double-kick, cascading chords and vocal scowling. On the other, their nous for conjuring strong grooves and melancholic, progressive noodling allows for a deeper connection to the various outlying strains of the genre.
Spending months rather than weeks writing this latest effort allowed the band to really stretch themselves. Bassist Casey Aylward explains: “I think we had a lot of time in the studio to mess around with details and textures… we were diving into different territories a lot on this record”. This extra time taken meant they were keen to find a producer who could bring the most out of the wealth of this fresh-sounding material and so they searched out Sanford Parker (Yob, Twilight). He certainly seems to have given the music more colour than much of their previous material and has retained the visceral edge that so defines them.
Firing us into a squall of feedback, “Dawnlands” sets the pace with classic lines and dark portents before “Colony” picks up the baton and introduces a strident, battle-hardened groove to proceedings. Here, the lyrics begin to disintegrate into binary and the structure and pacing quick-steps between the track’s many facets. Like some bizarre, mutated combination of Lamb Of God’s “Straight For The Sun”, Isis’ “Wavering Radiant” and Steak Number Eight’s “Photonic”, the magical post-doom of “Yearn” settles into a memorable, cyclical riff accompanied by a roared vocal hook. It takes just these three tracks together for us to establish our place upon Settler‘s musical roundabout.
Like its neighbour, the accurately-titled “Glory” similarly takes its influence from the post-metal kinks of Isis, yet summons their more explosive side, piling raging power on top of Nicholas Thornbury’s maniacal, howled vocal. It pitches us straight into the slowly-emerging structure and hefty theatrics of the truly epic “Heirs”. It’s a track that whisks us from speeding metallic grunt to drifting melodics and barbarous, deathly grooves before finally cramming us into the closing dynamic oblivion of something truly special.
Most certainly there are weaknesses in the album, but these are confined to the odd disrupting stumble between segues and a failure to fully-integrate the faster, less accessible parts. The fans should be happy with the result but mere passers-by may find themselves alienated by the looser, more ragged hits of “Impact” and the title-track. What cannot be disputed is Vattnet Viskar’s desire to experiment. From the very first glance of that conflicted and emotionally-cutting front cover (a recreated photo of a beaming Christa McAuliffe training for NASA’s ill-fated 1986 Challenger mission) right through to Settler‘s closing combination of melody and feedback, the band are seeking to expand our minds and their own. They toy with a huge concept by applying varying degrees of pacing and atmospherics. The end result isn’t flawless but it is, ultimately, beguiling.
(7/10 John Skibeat)