It’s a daunting prospect – an album that’s 98 minutes long and basically about how great the sun is. I worried it would be like watching endless re-runs of “Wish You Were Here” with Judith Chalmers being gradually baked in the Mediterranean, but thankfully we’re in Nordic Pagan/Folk territory here with more emphasis on being grateful for the life the sun gives rather than topping up your tan. I guess being a duo from Sweden (as Bhleg are), it’s going to make you a damn site more grateful for a bit of sun rather than a band from from Southern Spain, and the sentiment is admirable, thought-provoking and meaningful.
How to pin down Bhleg’s sound isn’t easy – they hail from true Nordic Black/Folk Metal stock, just guitars, bass, drums and harsh vocals (enriched by occasional choral passages), delivered with intensity when needed and poignancy/melancholy when the mood takes. Very early Borknagar spring to mind – pre-Vintersorg, but also ironically there are parts also reminiscent of solo Vintersorg. The more extreme side of the band’s sound nudges towards Burzum, Drudkh and maybe Falkenbach, balanced by touches of Ulver and Solefald. This variation in textures is all enabled, as well as demanded by the aforementioned 98 minute run time. It gives the the band room to let the tracks develop, morph and twist to incorporate the harsher, Blacker edge of their debut as well as investigate further the Nordic Folk side of their sound.
So as a duo, Simon Johansson and Ludwig Andersson handle all instruments, percussion and vocals between them with a stark, bleak production giving the album a flavour of the past, harking back to Black Metal’s infancy, where experimentation was rife on a low budget. That production quality actually does enhance rather than detract from the songs, making everything from the melodic and/or acoustic/folk segments blend well with the more extreme blast-beat passages – which many of the songs combine – the band just space them out and use them to varying degrees whether a track is 11 minutes or 5. Each track is vocalized in Swedish so no chance of yours truly getting a gist of the bands lyrical prowess, but they are delivered throughout with intensity and feeling.
This is possibly an album you can dip in and out of, but the band have tried to create a continuing, flowing mood for “Solarmegin” that makes the whole thing well worth tackling the 98 minutes of listening in one sitting. Yes, this is an album that harks back to a different, less complicated age that is reflected in the music, but packed with mood changes and variations that make it unpredictable and interesting. If you yearn for that early Black Metal which incorporated folk elements, yet also has an eye on the present and laced with aggression and melody in equal measures, then Bhleg might just be well worth you checking out.
(7/10 Andy Barker)