Almost exactly two years ago we had the pleasure of premiering Unohdan Sinut, the debut album of the Finnish band Qwälen. As is our habit, we spilled a lot of words introducing it, dropping references along the way to such bands as Young and in the Way and Dödsrit, but also the likes of Darkthrone, Nifelheim, Bathory, and Terveet Kädet. We identified “speed and fury” as perhaps the record’s main hallmarks, but also underscored the gripping harmonies created by the feverish dual-guitar leads:
“They not only vibrantly channel a range of dark and disturbing emotions, they also burrow into the listener’s head with relentless penetrating force, their relative clarity piercing through the raw and ravaging tones of what surrounds them.”
It’s fair to say that Unohdan Sinut was a damn tough act to follow, but these black metal punks were undaunted. They’ve made a second album, Syvä Hiljaisuus, that’s just as fury-filled and emotionally powerful as the debut.
Thematically, the new full-length “ponders the sheep-like nature of humanity, the inevitability of destruction, the acceptance of being faulted and surrendering to a greater force”. Bleak and bruising subjects, and the music often fits those themes hand-in-glove.
Even the intro track “Sairaus”, which depends primarily on a collage of chilling ambient tones and echoing spoken words, might make you want to huddle in the corner in despair. Its eerie and agitated sounds create a feeling of fear, which swells to unnerving heights with the advent of maniacal screams and the kind of pounding that feels like nails driven into your own coffin.
But of course that’s just a prelude to the real fury to come, which then finds its release through the following seven tracks, with “Kutsu Minua Saatanaksi” being the first power-surge. Those maniacal vocals quickly establish their throat-ruining presence, in the midst of flesh-shredding riffage that writhes and roils, gut-slugging bass lines, and d-beat drum gallops.
That first non-intro track also quickly reminds us that Qwälen have an enviable talent for bringing gripping melodies to the fore within their brute-force pummeling and riotous guitar barrages. The boiling rhythm guitars feel like high-grit sandpaper being vigorously applied to the listener’s skin from head to toe, but the lead-guitar lines (which vibrate just as fast) jump out, channeling moods within the mayhem.
The moods in that song and the ones that follow aren’t cheerful ones, but we’re not living in happy times, and Qwälen aren’t going to take the shit lying down. Yes, there are sensations of agony and feverish hopelessness in the songs, but also unbridled defiance and rage.
In songs like the highly infectious title song there are even sensations of brazen and boisterous glory, like a reminder that throwing your head back and going wild is the best way of giving a big middle finger to all the ways in which life becomes an oppressor. That song feels simultaneously besieged and exultant, and is one more striking example of how well the band combine feral ferocity with mood-changing melody.
When we heard the album’s early single “Maailma Täyttyy Kuolleista”, which is the album closer, we wrote, “Come for the big growling bass intro, stay for the hammering, the screaming, and the jittering, sizzling, and squirming fretwork fevers.” And this is indeed the kind of band who don’t hide the bass — it’s such a vital and visceral, nimble and nuanced, ingredient that it deserves the prominence it gets.
And the drumming never stays in a straight line very long either, moving sharply from punk beats to black-metal blasting, bracing gallops, skull-slugging hammer blows, and light-speed convulsions.
As mentioned, the vocals are so intense as to become terrorizing, because they hold nothing back. The screaming and harrowing roars are so full-bore, so fully possessed by the need to incinerate and self-immolate, that they’re also vital to the songs’ tremendous intensity.
But to return to where we began, what makes the new album much more than a fist-pumping, heart-racing riot are the lead-guitar melodies which, in both their heart-break and their refusal to succumb, seem like soundtracks to our wretched times. The pain of life can’t be ignored, they seem to say, but it doesn’t have to be accepted either.
And while Syvä Hiljaisuus carries the weight of grim moods, it’s undeniably bursting with furious life, and it thrives there. It will get your muscles working and your hearts racing, good for pissed-off days and equally good for despondent days when you need a big injection of living fuel and even the fire of triumph.
So yes, Unohdan Sinut was a tough act to follow, but Qwälen have followed it brilliantly. Don’t sleep on this band. Throw yourself into this album and don’t let go until the end — as if you’ll have any choice.
Syvä Hiljaisuus was recorded at Waiting Room recording studio in Tampere with Mikael Neves who has worked with the likes of Death Toll 80k and Tryer. Mikael also handled mixing duties. Mastering was done by Will Killingsworth at Dead Air Studios.
Syvä Hiljaisuus will be released on March 10th by Time To Kill Records, who also released the band’s full-length debut. The new one is up for pre-save and pre-order now: