StillaTranslating the album title as “Shadowpack” this is the third full length from this inventive Swedish avant-garde black metal act whose album cover conjures up notions of mysticism and chilly autumnal mornings where mist and dew blanket the air. Being my first listening experience for this band I was immersed in a progressive yet ambitious sonic landscape that is set out within the despondent tones of the intro piece “Irrfärd”. There is a funereal like aura to the opening of the album with lingering riffs and effusive drum fills that are abruptly dissolved when “Vårens Sista Önskan” announces itself with a scourging blast and croaked vocal delivery rendering initial impressions of old style black metal. As the tune progresses the band’s divergent song writing abilities enable the track to include some strange but very effective 70s retro rock touches via keyboards and atmospherics.

With that 70s retro influence in mind the songs take on a new lease of obsidian life allowing the softer more genteel sections to breathe fresh life into the shrivelled blackened corpse that Stilla has built their song writing foundation on. There is a calming almost narcotic and eerie ambience to this album even though the songs go through metamorphic transformations as the title track starts with a bereft and stricken riff before bolstering it with a blast insertion. Parts of this tune have a mid-era Enslaved and Opeth like style being progressive and ambitious with a saturation in experimentation via acoustic posturing that is integrated flawlessly. The blackened aspects of this album refer to a time when Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir pioneered the greying edges of black metal by including the acoustic pieces but also the paganistic qualities of their early releases before global recognition took them in a new direction.

The sauntering melancholy of the album is teased out within all the songs allowing the vocals to adopt various theatrical tones giving those paganistic qualities I referred to a pedestal from which to sermonise the listener with “I Tystnad Vilar Själen” being a perfect example. The tempo fluctuations within the songs are sudden but effective generating contrasting aggression with the subtler aspects as the tune devolves into a slower meandering beast with various guitar hooks nipping randomly alongside that progressive attitude that the band refers to as being influenced by Italian prog outfit Goblin. Having given that band a listen I can see what they mean.

“Av Maran Riden” begins calmly with a blackened croak before overshadowing the start by an eruption of blast that is reined in for the vocals. There is a lot to absorb on this album that requires multiple listens as each track takes on its own semblance with the experimentation and progressive facets being extensive throughout making this album a true work of sonic art and I’ll admit I found the album challenging initially due to its eccentric structure and testing dynamics but with each listen this album cultivates a breath-taking and extremely rewarding listen that you will keep listening to and finding new things you didn’t hear last time.

(9/10 Martin Harris)