If they are merely insufficient in quality or fall short on meeting the lowest tolerable aesthetical standards, I tend to take a rain check on albums I predominantly have that particular kind of criticism for, as even the most modest of efforts seem unworthy of their utter insignificance. Vanhelgd, on the other hand, is way too relevant death metal entity to be written off in similar manner, and although their new full-length Temple Of Phobos doesn’t impress quite as much as its predecessor Relics Of Sulphur Salvation, features that make it inferior are still indicative enough to justify a deeper analysis of its content.
Obviously, what these Swedes have set themselves upon was to expand the boundaries of their sound with this album and to embellish it with details that are not overly unorthodox per se, but certainly represent a novelty and slightly unusual addition to a sonic blueprint that helped them rise to prominence in recent years. Trumpets and clean female vocals that can be heard in Den Klentrogenes Klagan and Allt Hopp Är Förbi are probably the biggest peculiarities Temple Of Phobos has to offer, but I also can’t escape the impression that riff progressions have slightly different vibe this time around, especially during the album’s second half.
Still, nothing of a kind becomes evident at the very beginning of the journey, as the openers Lamentation Of The Mortals and Rebellion Of The Inquitous strike with familiar ominousness this band got us used to. After a couple of listens, I still count these two tracks as my absolute favorites, largely due the aesthetical resemblance to Relics Of Sulphur Salvation that I hold in high regard as the band’s most memorable record to date. What follows is the first attempt at exploring new grounds with Den Klentrogenes Klagan, the aforementioned song that features female vocals and trumpet sequences, and in my opinion stands as the paradigm of everything that’s wrong with this album. Of course, a plain fact that the band decided to start experimenting with their sound is, if anything, intrinsically positive. The problem is that all those novelties seem forced and out of place, more like a consequence of a pre-formed we should write this kind of song approach than of a natural, spontaneous songwriting process. This is how the song sounds to my ears at least, and though I may as well be wrong with this assessment because I don’t know for a fact if that was the case or not, what can’t be argued is that Vanhelgd’s strive for eclecticism resulted in significant absence of maliciousness in music, that I feel had been a crucial part of their appeal from the day one. The rest of the album only goes to prove this point, as the riffs continue to sound mellow and melancholic rather than foreboding, almost gothic-like, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
In terms of songwriting and the overall feel of the album, after such a hellish, relentless beast that Relics Of Sulphur Salvation was, Temple Of Phobos unfortunately can be deemed nothing but a let down. Still, going back to the opening paragraph, a credit must be given to Vanhelgd’s competence as there is not a single thing about this album, from superb production to impeccable technical execution, that suggests lack of experience. However, when it comes to artistic direction, the band obviously stands at the crossroad. If I was wearing their shoes, I would try to go back and make peace with those ugly inner demons they were catering to on previous albums, but if they decide to further develop and continue moving down this new route, a sincere best wishes is what they’ll get from me. I just may not be there to join the ride.
(Pulverised Records/Dark Descent Records, 2016)