rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Våt varm jord
02. Otto
03. Farsot
04. Missväxt
05. Fredlös
06. Uppror
07. Undergång
08. Deus
09. Requiem

Whatever metalheads may have been expecting from the return of ENTOMBED's Alex Hellid, it probably wasn't this. Full credit where it's due: FREDLÖS is no kind of star vehicle or side project for the elusive guitarist. Instead, this shadowy six-piece arrived fully formed, and armed with a sound that bears little resemblance to the Swede's much-hailed past achievements.

On some superficial level, you might describe FREDLÖS as a folk metal band, although this immersive hour of strange and heavy music has nothing in common with the jaunty bombast of FINNTROLL and ENSIFERUM. Here, the folk concerned is the folk of medieval horror and sinister goings-on in moonlit forests and behind icy castle walls. The music itself is steeped in eerie atmosphere, but with clear roots in black and early death metal leaking through via the dissonant churn of Hellid's riffs. Acoustic, folk-friendly instrumentation, haunting melodies sung by ghostly choirs, cloud-bothering twin-lead melodies, the reassuring buzz of analogue keyboards and regular deep detours into the chaotic and extreme: each of these nine songs contains multitudes and adds layer after layer of mystique and madness to the whole, deliriously unsettling enterprise.

While there are occasional nods to the elemental grandeur of bands like MOONSORROW and PRIMORDIAL here, at least in the execution of this most distinctive of debuts, FREDLÖS seem to be carving out their own macabre niche in real time. Once opener "Våt varm jord" has set the scene, cloaking everything in glitchy sepia with flashes of steely silver and bloody red, the progressive sprawl of "Otto" drifts along at a glacial pace, awash with mournful violin, and towards a stirring, all-for-one crescendo. Equally dazzling, the stately and surreal "Missväxt" harnesses the swirling post-punk theatre of SIOUXSIE, the grandiloquent gloom of prime SABBATH and the icy aura of Norwegian black metal, combining into a perfectly rounded heavy metal song with a spectacular central performance from vocalist Liv Hope.

FREDLÖS edge into more traditional territory on the epic metal stomp of "Uppror", which wrings nefarious magic from a single, '80s-inspired riff, while "Undergång" makes like a power ballad, but one sung into the impenetrable dark of night. Grand finale "Requiem" is a fitting way to end a truly striking first foray. 12 minutes long and quietly magnificent, it's a simple but intensely emotional piece of songwriting and instrumental imagination, delivered with utmost sincerity and grace. If you can hear the windswept might of BATHORY in the mix, then consider that a welcome bonus.

Yes, it's great to have one of underground metal's most important figures back and making music again. But it's even greater to discover that FREDLÖS are nothing like what we expected and everything we (should have) wanted. This is fucking great.

Author: Dom Lawson
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