Solstorm: Solstorm – album review

Solstorm ‘Solstorm’ (Duplicate Records)
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Should you find yourself in a modest Norwegian town with some time to pass what do you do?

I was able to answer that question recently – The mercury just rising above sub-zero conditions prevented a full exploration of the town and having earlier discovered a near £8 pint, settling into a bar for a session was not really an option…in such cases I always fall back upon the local record shop – granted in 2013 there might not be a local record store; but thankfully Porsgrunn still retains a store of some sort; it may well be housed in the bland confines of the town mall, and its window display might have featured the latest offering from Miley Cyrus but I always remain confident there are gems to be had within…

Flicking through the racks of pan European mediocrity I recalled those days of yore when I regularly purchased a single or album based purely upon the artwork and the track titles; and recalling the “when in…err Porsgrunn” phrase I began a search for that particularly Norwegian beast – black metal.

My gaze was drawn to a near solid black block – cold, uninviting, lifeless even, my attention was piqued and upon closer examination I noted a barely depicted solar eclipse and a grey segment, the word Solstorm on the front – Is Solstorm the artist or the release title? Flicking over the cover I note seven track names; and am encouraged by titles such as ‘On This barren Rock’, ‘Exhumation’ and ‘Art Of Destruction’ – the gatefold sleeve opens to reveal the text “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents” a quote from H.P Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” – my decision had been made for me, and as I handed over my Krone I was excited to hear the album, and to see if, as back in my youth a record could be bought based purely upon instinct…

Album opener ‘Art Of Creation’ is deeply unsettling; a brooding ambient noise that evokes feelings of confinement all the while knowing that some sort of monolithic beats are set to rain down; though Solstorm are thankfully not that obvious as the ‘The Sun Will Appear From The West’ drags you down into the fetid bowels of the post-apocalyptic soundscape that the Bergen based outfit hail from have crafted – similarities to both Dragged Into Sunlight and Neurosis spring to mind though this recording pre-dates anything from DIS; this is a monstrous 9+ minute slow burning rage – the sound left behind following the apocalypse, though it is more than just Sunn O))) style colliding rhythms and glimmers of melody compete with broken vocals…

‘OnThis Barren Rock’ is probably exactly what you would expect from Norwegian black metal – the soundtrack to malevolent violence, crushing slabs of grinding noise, explosive drum patterns and vocals so full of apoplectic rage it’s genuinely difficult to distinguish if the language used is native Norwegian or English, but despite the wasteland atmospherics there are submerged melodies; certainly not melodies to lift the spirits, more to accompany the torture rooms of Hades, though none of this adequately prepares you for ‘Manhattan Mass’…11+ minutes of drawn out despair, the sound track to a post-apocalyptic hell, grinding cold steel, monolithic rocks being hammered by captive souls as a slow progressive voice wails, the track building ominously towards its apex – a hopeful salvation, a release; Solstorm don’t fall into that trap however and revel in the fact that no solace is offered as Jaran Hereid returns with more scorched earth vocals to continue the suffering.

‘The Carrington Event’ seems to build around an industrial machine drone reminiscent of early Killing Joke, before waves of crushing drums hammer down around you; the entire track drops away to a single drum beat and a subtle guitar riff – a glimpse of hope, almost ambient within the context of this release, though that is soon washed away by the gathering storm clouds – a swirling maelstrom of guitar driven, pulsating mayhem…Solstorm yet again choose to fuck with their listeners, having drained every glimmer out of you they deliver ‘Exhumation’ – truly unforgiving, a punishment for crimes yet to be committed, the track encases you, its mournful guitar sinews tightening choking the life from you before dragging you down, its only as you realise the futility of your struggle that you begin to hear the beauty within; the gentle guitar chords soundtrack your submission.

Solstorm have crafted a dangerously violent album, to reach the end is both a challenge and a triumph, it reeks of eerie despair, of futility and utter desolation, and yet within the mayhem there is hope, like humanity itself, hope is the light that carries us through.

Track List:

1.Art Of Creation
2.The Sun Will Appear From The West
3.On This Barren Rock
4.Manhattan Mass
5.The Carrington Event
6.Exhumation
7.Art Of Destruction

So, back to the experiment – I’m not sure….Solstorm have produced a fantastic album which they have then titled and housed in a typical sleeve, no criticism in that – it worked, it drew me in to the point of purchase and ownership; maybe its me that is failing here, am I so regimented that I expect my black metal to resemble a collapsing black home, my dub to be barely visible beneath clouds of ganja smoke? Are bands and fans guilty of pandering to each others expected requirements? Will leave that debate to another date; the challenge now is to find a recording housed within a sleeve the polar opposite of expectation…any suggestions?

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Phil Newall is 47, from The Wirral - he earns his living not writing about music nor playing music...though sorely wishes he could. He was fortunate enough to see many of the first generation punk bands when they played the U18's matinee shows at Eric's, Liverpool. As an attendee at Eric's he was exposed to punk rock, dub reggae, art rock, and all manner of weirdness; as a customer at Probe Records he was variously served and scowled at by Pete Wylie and Pete Burns - he has written for Record Collector, Whisperin & Hollerin, and Spiral Scratch and wanted to write a book detailing the Liverpool punk scene; however with 'Head-On' Julian Cope beat him to it...and frankly did a much better job.

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