This is a frustrating album. When Bhleg is good, they’re good. Solarmegin has so, so many beautiful sounds artfully woven into its fabric. Throat singing, bagpipes, snapping, choirs, a Viking war horn, samples of bird sounds (especially the birds) all find their rightful place in Solarmegin, living comfortably among the standard black metal Bhleg produces. It’s rare for an album to have so many disparate sounds living under one roof, and rarer still for those sounds to work together beautifully. But that’s the catch — those bits of auditory garnish are often the best part of Solarmegin.
Solarmegin’s fatal flaw is that their standard black metal sound isn’t very good. It’s not terrible, for sure; the production is excellent, the vocalist is very capable, the guitar tone has that electric black metal bite. The problem isn’t the riffs, either; Bhleg is perfectly capable of writing melodies that are alternately catchy or melancholy or grandiose. The main issue is the tempo. Most of the album has only two BPMs: sorta slow, or sorta fast. It’s never slow enough to tap into the droning, meditative qualities characteristic of atmoblack (and the music isn’t composed like atmoblack, anyway), and even the fastest parts of the album are pedestrian compared to more aggressive black metal. The result is that massive swaths of the album, sometimes entire songs, slide by like the windows of a dawdling train. It’s not trance-like, it’s just forgettable.
This would be an issue on a regular length album, but Solarmegin is not a regular length black metal album. Solarmegin is 1 hour, 40 minutes long. Nearly two hours. This would be long for a funeral doom album, but as a straight up black metal album with debilitating tempo issues, Solarmegin feels endless.
But all is not lost. Solarmegin can fade into the background even when you’re actively listening to it, but it can just as easily seize your ear right back. Solarmegin’s first-line defense against its own drudgery is, believe it or not, the tremolo riff. For a black metal band, Bhleg uses surprisingly little tremolo, especially in the upper register. When they do deploy tremolo, the faster picking lends some urgency and immediacy to the music that was utterly lacking prior. It’s an incredibly easy fix, and some more tremolo would have masked this album’s deficiencies wonderfully.
More interesting, but just as effective, is the tapestry of beautiful sounds previously mentioned. Skip to a random section in Solarmegin, and you’re just as likely to hear uninspired, drudging black metal as you are to experience the gorgeous strings in the intro to “Hymn till skymningen”; or the ultra-catchy, wooden drip-drop percussion peppered throughout; or the soft, emotional acoustic ending to “Kraftsång till sunna”; or the birds which seem to perch in every song, or the plaintive bagpipes mourning the finale, or the choirs interweaving innocent melodies. When Bhleg makes use of their stunning array of instruments and sounds, the product is top-tier folk-black. Bhleg have an incredible ability to weave disparate sounds together into a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. “Frö (Växtlighetens fader)” is one of the best songs on the album because Bhleg makes full use of their sonic potential, intermixing a beautiful stringed instrument with the intensity of tremolo and rasped vocals, before lapsing back into a quiet passage featuring wooden percussion, a chorus, and the electric guitar lurking in the background; and then the whole thing collapses inward again, and a rare hyperspeed tremolo breaks the tension with a shrieking riff. The whole thing works because Bhleg does not make these sounds oppose one another; although they contrast in tone, they are not fighting each other. The strings and distorted guitar, the choirs and the rasps, the wooden percussion and the double bass are all voices telling one story, different perspectives creating one art. This is Bhleg at their best, and they are extraordinary.
In sum: there is a masterful, genre-paradigm folk-black album hidden in Solarmegin…but you’ll have to be willing to wade through 100 minutes to find it.
Solarmegin releases on February 23rd through Nordvis Produktion, and is available for pre-order through Bandcamp in both digital and physical formats.