(We present Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the Norwegian band Solstorm, released on October 4th.)
There is a pronounced tendency, in art, in literature, in cinema, to treat the apocalypse (and its aftermath) as something dramatic and thrilling. Something equally capable of generating excitement as it is terror.
But the terrible truth is that the end of all things… is just that. An ending. A time for, if nothing else, looking back on what has come before, because there is no tomorrow.
This is something that Solstorm first captured on their debut, self-titled album, way back in 2013, and which they return to here, on the succinctly-titled II.
The use of haunted ambience and eerie negative space, moody melody and droning sub-noise, on this album, intercut as it is with eruptions of tectonic, plate-shifting riffage and thunderous, earth-shaking roars, allows the band to paint a picture of a world devoid of life, yet still filled with echoes of its passing.
There are no ravenous hordes, no descending angels, no sinister visitations – from beyond or from below – nothing but absence and emptiness and a sense of desolation that’s so dense and weighty as to be an almost physical thing.
As you might expect then, II is a much more melancholy and introverted album, focussing more on the personal apocalypse, the immolation of the self, than the more “cinematic” vision of its predecessor.
Moments like the morose, meditative second half of “Eklips” or the subtly epic opening of “Jung”, for example, evince a greater focus on melody and atmosphere than ever before (in the latter case, this melody becomes a recurring theme throughout the track), while the more chaotic and confusing vibe of “Sloth” feels very much like the product of a mind tormented by isolation.
And while that’s not to say that the band have lost their ability to bring the heaviness when they want to (the aforementioned “Jung”, for example, may feature a wealth of desolate melody, but only grows darker and heavier as it progresses), II is clearly an album that both offers and demands contemplation as well as catharsis.
This dichotomy is most notable during the album’s front and end pieces, “Koba” and “Vienna”, whose lyrics speak of a beginning and an ending in fire, and which find the band moving back and forth between simmering silence and stunning violence in an ebb and flow of tense, tidal motion.
Fittingly, as the alpha and omega of the record, these two tracks epitomise the rage and regret, the anger and the anguish, that drive this album, capturing as they do the pain of loss and the anger at what could have been, but now never will be.
Make no mistake about it, II is a heavy album, in more ways than one. But it’s a heaviness that never feels forced or feigned, that comes from accepting that the end is inevitable… and the only question is what will you, what will any of us, leave behind when we’re gone?