SARKE – ‘Gastwerso’ review

The trajectory of SARKE is one many have followed with interest, noting the musical progression of Sarke (Thomas Bergli ) and Nocturno Culto (Ted Skjellum) throughout the band discography, as they pushed the envelope a little each time. You could always tell they had a lot of ideas from outside the black metal genre – nature abhors a vacuum and all that – and like most talented artists, were working out how to shoehorn them in without alarming the fans too much. But Gastwerso changes course. It is different, with bolder action and unprepared themic dissonance – a leap sideways, backwards and forwards, drawing sonically from both 80s and 90s influences, but within a very current production.

It boasts some very strong passages of music, and is quite accessible, which shouldn’t bother anyone, but hey, we are where we are and some one somewhere will be whining that they’ve ‘sold out’. The rhythm guitars are often relegated to the back of the mix, with the bass further forwards, and the vocals right at the front, I mean like right at the front, like popular music is mixed. There are guitar solos, but themes are developed in other ways than guitar, which tend to the static. I’m not going to over-explain it, just be assured it’s good and if you liked the earlier stuff but were never knocked flat by it, well this is more like the kind of album they should have been making.

Opener Ghost War is a Satyricon-esque chuggy march, but chuggy in the Norwegian sense, or rather more like 80s goth punk ( a theme that appears throughout this album, released as it is on the 1st November 2019, spooky eh? ). Choral synths appear early on, and then there is a modal shift for a really blunt out-of-nowhere heavy metal melodic guitar solo, the first eyebrow raiser of the album, although the backline is unchanged and unphased, remaining allegiant to the older albums.

Echoes From the Ancient Crucifix has Culto delivering an Amebix style frenzied sermon over a keyboard driven single string guitar riff. And then, symphonic synth stabs? Am I at a goth disco? How is that going to work? Well, it does in Mausoleum, ‘I want to smell the wee, and taste the cigarettes’ had me picturing the toilets in every back street English pub or rock club in the 1980s. But no, the lyrics are actually ‘smell the weed‘, so either I’m losing my hearing or the compressors are over-grabbing those transients. It’s probably the former though ( pardon? ). Whatever, with the tonal developments stacking up against the repetitive guitars, this is a standout song.

The Endless Wait might have one wondering if SARKE composes for film. It’s a pleasant interlude with lilting female vocals. Ties of Blood is another chugger, but this time with an attractive chorus effect on the guitars. It’s a bit generic by the standards of the album so far, but with the artist reaching for some interesting colours from the pallette tray. For instance, where the hell does that blues solo come from, towards the end? Everyone knows you can’t put blue notes in black metal – I mean, that’s like acknowledging that black people even exist! But listening again, maybe it’s a bluegrass solo after all, and then that’s alright. Phew!

In The Flames has a cleanish yet dark guitar motif, and more chuggy stuff going on, but rhythmically on the ‘2 and’, which is quite propelling. The song is open and broad, and again sermon-like in the vocal delivery. Keyboards move things along tonally, but this time we have a twin guitar ‘solo’, alternating a rising figure that falls just as the other climbs, just before Culto sings ‘I can see the torment in the flames’. Coincindence? Nah – be assured, bedroom artists, this is songwriting! Rebellious Bastard sounds like ‘Hate Them’ era Darkthrone but with a Hammond organ, yes you read that right. Synths boost the guitar stabs, subtle but nether-the-less there. It works though!

‘For the gods have called my name!’, announces Culto as the album closes. Final track Cribs Hand has soloing with that really nice Still Life by Opeth sound to it ( an over-compressed guitar that sounds more like a synth – you get a similar sound recording guitars backwards onto tape, then turning it over and playing it forwards ). There’s some good picked clean rhythm guitaring too, but nothing you wouldn’t have heard already from Sarke. This track is different though because it seems more driven by the words, with the piano and female voices attempting to paint the story, and that only works because the vocals are so clear and you can get the link. It closes with a proggy tube driven guitar solo over acoustic strumming, which, considering only three minutes ago we were hearing surf tremelo, may be a step too far for some listeners, and to be honest it felt like it was stretching credibility a bit far at first. But repeated listens may suggest that this track uses all the disparate elements thrown at the listener over the first seven tracks, and unfolds them together as a summary in the last, sort of like a rhapsody. So, the album is challenging, yet still it closes coherently? More listens needed I think. It’s only day one of release after all…

I think I’m impressed with ‘Gastwerso’ – it’s their best yet. I wonder if these two have looked at life’s clock and thought, ‘fuck it’, and then gone ahead with something a bit more ambitious than their listeners would expect. Outpacing them, in a way. If only everyone did that, instead of churning out coca-cola consistent releases, the world might be a better place for your ears.

https://sarkeband.bandcamp.com/album/gastwerso

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