After a debut full of harsh, twisting, blackened hardcore sounds comes Oslo’s SIBIIR with their sophomore full-length, Ropes. From the darkest, dankest reaches of Norway’s icy tundras, and with a more focused take on crafting extreme music, SIBIIR openly states in promotional materials that they wanted to move away from “cramming shitloads of ideas into one song”, directing their attention towards the dynamics of their material. The debut was exceptional, so would tinkering with their established manic sound pay off? Carry on to read one opinion/answer to the question, obviously.

The first three tracks on Ropes quickly establish the shift towards less jarring material. Where the band thrived before in throwing thick, sludgy riffs and discordant hardcore atop rough blackened blasting, “Leeches” and “For The Few” instead thrum along with a modern blackened hardcore pace, similar to their Scandineighbours This Gift Is A Curse; with far more clarity between the stringed instruments, the melodeath riffing in the latter’s verses is a nice touch. “Worlds Apart” is a textbook black’n’roll number, for the most part. It neither stinks nor shines, just further establishes the sound SIBIIR are pushing towards on this record. Each track employs Jimmy Nymoen’s harsh, spitting vocal well, but the vitriol and vehemence thin out pretty quickly – Ropes doesn’t lose steam, it just needs a second to catch its icy breath. Shorter tracks at the front would have definitely helped in getting to the really good shit in the middle.

“A Trail of Failed Attempts” and “Silent Repent” are where SIBIIR find their feet with this new, more direct sound. Opting to layer clean, ghostly vocals atop Nymoen’s rattling voice, pairing these with spectral synths and barely-there acoustic chords, benefits the tracks immensely. The shift in pacing and styles is so subtle that it’d be forgivable to wonder if the first few tracks were just a trial-period before getting to the real, full product. This is where the tracks approaching and passing six minutes are best, anchoring Ropes with cavernous passages with next to no percussion. When the band jump back into the cold-steel of blackened blasting, there’s a sense of weight behind the drops, whereas on previous releases these moments were easily lost amongst the mixture of sludge, doom, and black metal influences. “Transparent Lives” is a highlight of blackened-adjacent genre releases for the year, with a huge swing towards a major key finale and a series of carefully placed movements that bring to mind Muse, rather than Mayhem. Worry not. That is intended as a compliment.

SIBIIR state their case with Ropes in a manner far more concise than on their previous full-length. Where SIBIIR was daring in its execution of multiple styles of extreme music, Ropes offers frost-bitten black metal alongside careful genre-bending – allowing for the band to really dig into some of the more atmospheric material and let their songwriting skills shine. The structure of the record does leave some room for improvement, with the first half dragging somewhat, saved by the stellar second half swopping in but whether engaged in icy melodeath riffing or hostile hardcore pummeling, the Norwegians have put their own stamp on a crossover genre that can be incredibly divisive.

Ropes is available Oct. 4 via FysiskFormat.