Over the last couple of years, the phrase “post-black metal” has come to be associated with soundscapes of bright, twinkling guitars, overly-affected screamo, and an overall air of nostalgia and longing — oddly enough, a worthy candidate for the antithesis of metal. Acts like Deafheaven and Alcest popularized the style, but remain controversial acts among purists making somewhat valid arguments that neither band are metal at all. While there’s no shortage of bands combining post-metal and black metal while remaining within the confines of extreme music, the stereotype has infected the tag for everyone and comes with some preconceptions. New Hampshire’s Vattnet Viskar are making great strides in shaking this mischaracterization while keeping to the spirit of combining black metal, post-rock, and sludge.
In fact, Vattnet Viskar’s sophomore album Settler pulls just as much influence from sludge as it does the American atmospheric black metal scene. Along with the tried and true combination of tremolo-picked chord progressions and blasts of double bass comes a reinvigorated musicality with focus on riff and groove. “Colony” for instance features the lumberous swagger of Leviathan era Mastodon while “Glory” captures the adventurous depth of The Ocean‘s Palegial. This sludge influence seeps into frontman and guitarist Nick Thornbury‘s vocal performance as well; outside of the layering of distorted shouts, the pitched bellows of “Yearn” and the subtle group chants in “Impact” offer yet another touch of variety.
Along with this added textural and rhythmic mindfulness comes a sense of melody that is ultimately as uplifting as it is depressive. The emotive peaks and valleys of Settler are perfectly represented by the peculiar and out of character artwork (for the genre, anyway) and its implications, inspired by a photograph of astronaut and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe happily floating in an anti-gravity flight in preparation for the Challenger voyage that would ultimately take her life. In turn, Settler weaves euphoric melodies through a shroud of darkened fuzz and over scores of crusty grooves to create an overall atmosphere of speculative wonder and foreboding peril.
Sporting this loose concept and a more varied musical performance, Settler thrives on the hooks of each track that propels the record quickly to the end of the album’s 40-minute runtime. Through moments such as the binary chanting in “Colony,” the climactic orchestration of “Heirs“, or the thick bass groove in “Glory“, there isn’t a track on Settler that meanders by without some sort of idiosyncrasy that stands out as inspired or thought-provoking in some way. Vattnet Viskar have shown themselves gifted at the art of songcraft, and any passing criticism on the band resting on genre tropes simply do not hold up on repeat listens.
These improvements to the Vattnet Viskar sound on Settler extends to the production as well. Sky Swallower was a promising debut as any, but it was marred by thin tones and a relatively conservative approach at production. Helmed by Sanford Parker (Minsk, Nachtmystium, Wovenhand, etc), Settler sounds massive with all the power and depth it deserves. Parker and the band take production liberties not explored on Sky Swallower, like processing Thornbury’s vocals with layering and distortion effects that contribute to the overall chaos. Settler is clean when it needs to be, but Parker strikes the balance between raw, earthy tones and listenability.
So obviously, much could be said about the strides Vattnet Viskar have made for Settler. At the end of the day, it’s just worth noting the band’s marked improvement on all fronts, furthering themselves as an act worthy of being at the forefront of the genre. In theme and form, Vattnet Viskar are a band that pride themselves in looking skyward, and they’ve accomplished the task of capturing a colossal sound and a grand scope. Should the band continue to explore new ground on future releases, it’s hard telling what territory they’ll end up at next. I can only imagine (and hope) that it’ll at least be nearly as stellar as Settler.
Vattnet Viskar – Settler gets…