Century Media
rating icon 5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Shadow
02. Dagger
03. Eternal Golden Monk
04. Benblåst
05. Östpeppar
06. Traces
07. Phobon Nika
08. Måsstadens Nationalsång
09. When No One Walks With You
10. All These Feelings
11. Nojja
12. Deceit
13. The Lone Deranger

One might assume from the cover art of "Måsstaden" and band name (to English readers anyway) that VILDHJARTA is some sort of pagan/black metal band. Not so; not even close in fact. Instead what we get is an album five years in the making from a band bent on creating something unique, but ends up with a product in "Måsstaden" that is little more than the trippy end of MESHUGGAH interpretation with atmospheric garnish. It's not a bad interpretation; it's a middling one.

While it is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and boundary breaching is not a prerequisite to quality music, the final product must still offer value of some significance and one worth remembering for more than the time period that elapses between car payments. VILDHJARTA can't check either of those items off the list with "Måsstaden", even though they threaten as much from time to time. Down-tuned, mid-paced, angular and rumbling with dissonant note runs, lopsided riffs, and a fair amount of spacey atmospherics define most of what is heard on this one, all of which is more than passable; it just rarely rises above the mediocre. At least a couple of cuts grab one's attention, such as the finely composed "Eternal Golden Monk", which ironically succeeds for doing what MESHUGGAH already does so well, and "Traces", which happens to be the only song with some clean vocal parts (instead of only gutturals and mid-range harshness) and an actual melody of some substance. Also existing are more than a few cool riffs and moments of intriguing compositional intelligence. A capful of instrumental pieces (e.g. "Phobon Nika") do nothing but increase the drag on the momentum-wane that has already hit by the midpoint of the album.

Considering that "Måsstaden" is a concept album named for "a hidden and isolated town narrated in a classic fable manner" works to explain some of the meandering and seeming disjointedness that occurs. But it does little to change the central issue, which is that VILDHJARTA's forceful push into spaces reserved for the avant-garde too often ends up making "Måsstaden" seem aimless, counterpoints in favor of purposeful misdirection and artistic headfuckery notwithstanding. And yet there is still enough going on musically with "Måsstaden" to keep the debut from being an exercise in failure, which really only brings it up to mediocre.

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