If nothing else, “Fylgja” has provided me with my secret guilty pleasure for this year, you know, the track that you listen to when you think no one else is paying attention and that you turn off the moment anyone wanders into hearing range.
NATTSMYG have changed their game with this album, the more rustic ventures that precede sound almost clumsy in comparison and in the event categorisation has become more difficult. The Folk/Viking influence of previous works is less obvious as “Fylgja” wafts across a number of borders, you'll need to sink all your darts in the genre dartboard to be able to put your finger anywhere near a definition of the sound. Of course, the necessity to do so is only there if you need a reference point and so I'll stick with Folk Metal even though that is nowhere near accurate enough.
In general terms, music of this variety doesn't readily engage with me but there are always exceptions and “Fylgja” is one of them. There is a certain allure to NATTSMYG in this form that draws you in without you knowing it, the main aspect being the female vocals that are strong but whimsical. They are delivered in natural voice and so avoid any cheesy operatics and they have the consistency of warm honey, though there is no tooth-rotting sweetness about them. “Älvadans” is the aforementioned guilty pleasure with those lush vocals drawing you in like a Siren, they have an ethereal quality to them, almost haunting, they certainly have you drifting into the somewhere else.
It's the vocals, both the dream state female and the snarling male that are pushed to the fore on this album. The music itself tends to be a canvas upon which they paint their picture. Whilst it would be easy to refer to the singing as your typical beauty and the beast, it is so compelling that though they follow that formula, they are far too effective to complain. The beastly side of the vocals aren't used as a counterpoint apart from when they join together, whereupon the juxtaposition works well, more usually they are separated by an instrumental bridge so that they stand on their own ground. There are sections of strong male clean singing too, here the strength of delivery remains adding further aspects and even the lilting female allure is tempered on “I Skogens Hjärta” where the vocals are more linear, almost poppy, though none of the charm is lost.
Whilst the music is used to carry the vocals, it is by no means buried, it just tends to flow below them. There are varying dynamics at play, at times progress is sprightly but more often the instrumentation ripples along like wheat in a breeze. The atmosphere conjured is one that suggests a fantasy film score, there is an epic nature to it and drama drips from most of these songs, pastoral pictures are painted and when the ordnance is brought out by way of thumping bass drum and juddering guitar, those rolling hills are broken by majestic mountains. The compositions sound quite simple at first listen but this is a foil, repetition quickly reveals an undercurrent eddying with embellishment. Often this comes courtesy of the keyboards that add in woodwind melodies that take you back to less complicated times and that add warmth to an album that already has a glow.
To remind you that this is a Metal album, the guitar maintains a presence even if prevailingly it is as a rhythm tool, that said it also frequently steps up to the mark to add a lead motif, wandering along with contemplation as if trying to find the best path across a mountain. Elsewhere it adds abrasion to what would otherwise be a soothing and comforting listen. Whilst the instrumentation tends to be understated, it still compels, it's obvious that a tale is being told and the subtle enhancement of the melodies that meander through “Fylgja” enriches the whole. Whilst the drums never attempt to steal the show, they often introduce a persistent pummel, especially when accompanying the moments when the guitar becomes more insistent. Ultimately the Metal is never far away.
“Fylgja” has a magic of its own, it will certainly appeal to more than just Metalheads, if exposure to a wider audience ever happens. For someone who rarely removes his head out of the extreme bucket, this album has grabbed my attention and I don't quite know how when I wouldn't normally touch this form of music with a barge pole. Whatever contrivance they have used, NATTSMYG better keep it to themselves, I've got a reputation to keep. For fuck's sake, every time Mrs. Mac walks in and I have to turn this album off, she thinks I've been watching porn.
(Online June 12, 2011)