Why hello there, ladies and djentlemen (bear with me, the bad pun will make sense in a few moments); welcome back to another episode of A Scene In Retrospect, the feature in which we, the It Djents staff, finally give due credit to some classic, scene-shaping records we were never able to cover before. This time around, we have a special treat for you – many of you were undoubtedly waiting impatiently for this record to be covered. So hang tight, as our PR/social media manager Inter, our social media manager Valentin and our staff writer Sam talk about none other than the legendary Måsstaden by Swedish djent forerunners Vildhjarta. Enjoy!
It’s (almost) October, the days become shorter and darker, and the overall feeling on the streets is rather depressing – the perfect time to endlessly jam Vildhjarta’s masterpiece of a debut album called Måsstaden.
Its dense, almost intimidating atmosphere perfectly fits the darker season of the year, almost as if it was written specifically as a ‘soundtrack of dingy days’. Almost six years ago, on one such ugly and rainy day in November, I listened to Måsstaden for the first time in my life (and immediately fell in love). Never before in my whole life had I heard an album like this – the unique guitar-riffing with incredibly low tunings (today known as ‘djenting’), two vocalists relentlessly challenging each other or the super thick and dense atmosphere already mentioned above.
Måsstaden is an extraordinarily well- and thoughtfully written album, which evidently becomes clear when you listen to the instrumental version of the album: there are so many little beautiful nuances you don’t necessarily recognise when you listen to the vocal-version that make it even more perfect. I once read that it took the band ages to finish the album because they always wanted to tweak little parts to create best product possible. And hallelujah, I’m glad they did, because that’s probably how they created one of the best modern metal albums of the last decade, and laid the foundation of a movement that is today known as ‘djent’.
This album will forever be in my personal top-10-albums-of-all-time list, and I highly suggest everyone who doesn’t know it already to check it out immediately.
The first time I’ve heard about Vildhjarta was back in 2009, when they supported Belgian math metallers In Quest. This was around the time they released Omnislash, and “Shiver” was this new and sensational song with a very distinctive sound. I knew about Meshuggah and SikTh, also liked Textures very much and had heard from an English band called Fellsilent. I wasn’t aware of djent as an internet phenomenon back then, but seeing a band like Vildhjarta live on stage sparked my interest in this kind of music, and I quickly discovered the viral djent scene afterwards.
2011 was the year of my first visit of the Euroblast festival. Djent was on the rise; it was fresh, exciting and new, inspiring a new wave of progressive bands all around the world to adapt certain stylistc elements and branch out in new directions. A new band from France, called Uneven Structure, played their upcoming album Februus in full and blew the crowd (including myself) away. Later at the festival, I had the pleasure to experience Vildhjarta for the second time in my life, now without a clean vocalist (Robert Luciani, who later created Means End), but with a second growler named Vilhelm Bladin. And they played Måsstaden. In full.
I still consider this as one of my strongest experiences in a live show. Måsstaden was the shit. They released the album some weeks after that through Century Media, and I still consider it as the epitome of the djent movement. The very distinctive atmosphere, the heaviness, the concept, the energetic, cold, dark and eerie sound create a one of a kind experience. It had the exactly right amount of Meshuggah-worshipping, but with enough own identity to raise a flock of copycat bands which tried to emulate the sound Vildhjarta so gloriously achieved on Måsstaden. They all failed. Whatever the future holds for the band, Måsstaden is curse and blessing all in one. Its charisma will turn the people towards them for many years, but all future release will be measured on this masterpiece.
For many involved with the progressive metal community (and in particular the renowned djent movement of the past decade), the name Vildhjarta has almost become a household utterance. This is certainly applies to myself and many I associate with, and for good reason. This is a band that has been widely understood to be the original proponent of a new-wave metal sound dubbed as ‘thall’, and if one were to attempt at explaining what this is, they would be acting well within reason to present the outfit’s fantastic full-length debut Måsstaden as evidence.
From the very first listen, this album has always represented somewhat double-edged sword for me; it is both aimed at being as devastatingly heavy and cathartic as possible, whilst also bearing a considerable array of creative aspects. On the whole, this is primarily achieved through an extreme accentuation of pre-existing and commonplace elements within heavy music, namely the frequent use of breakdowns, strikingly low tunings, and the balancing measure of sporadic pinch-harmonics. Måsstaden is quite simply a shimmering and abundant display of these things, but of course taken to an extreme level, as is the nature of the band.
For me, the sheer heaviness really is a staple of Måsstaden, with a good proportion of the material being based around utterly unforgiving grooves and breakdowns, with classic death-style growls to top things off. This being said, I feel that Vildhjarta truly prove their worth here by balancing this out with tamer and more forgiving elements. Personal highlights in this regard come from the two seven-minute epics “All These Feelings” and “The Lone Deranger”, both of which being highly demonstrative of this principle. At certain points, the songs are allowed to slow down, take a more subdued tone, and manufacture a greater level of suspense; overall, this is an artistic approach that allows the album as a whole to appear as truly eclectic and artistic, rather than simply a display of brutality.
This is not only a thoroughly well-written record, but one that is rather significant in the sphere of modern prog-metal. It is certainly creative and ambitious, but more importantly, this is a piece of work that to this day takes steps towards de-trivialising the gimmick that ‘djent’ has become within the modern scene. Without wanting to over-dramatize, it wouldn’t be outrageous to suggest that Måsstaden is evidential of the fact that that great things can still be born from combining the simplistic aspects of traditionally ‘brutal’ structuring, and low guitar tunings.
And that’s it! Come back in fourteen days for mor A Scene In Retrospect; in the meantime, you can leave your own thoughts on this album in the comments if you like. See you next time, and until then, stay safe, and as always…
…thanks for reading!