Ofdrykkja has come a long way since its first release, the beguiling (if that’s the right word for a self-confessed depressive suicidal black metal band) and harrowing A Life Worth Losing in 2014. Back then things were strictly lo-fi but that only served to amplify the band’s skills for producing music that personified a black-tinged cruise through the mental and urban decay infecting the fringes of a post-industrial Swedish town. It’s a piece of work that probably deserves its own consideration rather than any direct comparisons with this latest release – the band’s first outing on Avantgarde – which is, frankly, in another league entirely from a purely production point of view but also a clear marker that there was indeed another level of ambition altogether lurking within. If you, like me, tend to approach anything with the ‘depressive’ label with due caution, then this is an opportunity to toss that to one side and delve into something a bit less deferential to the confines of genre definitions.
Irrfärd still stays faithful to the benchmarks of what makes this style of music so effective and evocative, and draws on some reliable genre staples – the tortured vocals for example. But even then the vocals are more varied – from forlorn growls to mournful hollering and conservatively used spoken word – and in this case blended more consciously with the music rather than shrieks which can dominate some releases. But what’s more noticeable is that Ofdrykkja’s sound has transformed – far from the bedsit jams of the first release and into a bleak and oppressive multilayered symphony. What the band has lost leaving behind the blood-spattered bedsheets and dingy flats in the arse-end of Västerås in Sweden, it has clearly more than replaced through the process of creating Irrfärd as it roams out into the backstreets and beyond (the album title literally means a wandering or rambling expedition). The band certainly hasn’t lost its purely depressive approach but it’s delivered with considerably more crunch – such as on the first proper track En Vandrares Börda where the heavy, doom-laden guitars combine with undistorted picking and shoe gaze repetition but which gently evolves into an enthralling, drifting track. Other elements in the first-half of the album have a downbeat, folky feel – such as on En Fragmentarisk Resa Genom Tidsrymden and which at times provide an almost skaldic tone when delivered alongside the thoughtful lyrics, which occasionally break into English, but are mostly Swedish.
It could have all ended there and that would have been a pretty impressive on its own. But the second half of the album feels more like a band that has just released it has twice as much room as it did on the first release. While others might have floundered under the pressure, Ofdrykkja begins to build on its sturdy foundations. From the Burzum-like dirge Mother Earth, Devour Me to the more experimental Ungdomssår where it feels like the band finally unleashes the spirit of bonkers Swedish depressive metal originators Lifelover in one final crescendo of noise. Irrfärd is a grand vision that hauls Ofdrykkja’s interpretation of the sicknesses often hidden modern day urban life – and that many Western societies in this populist age would prefer to forget – into something that echoes across towns, cities and then further into grainy countryside hinterlands. A depressive exultation with punch.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)