Album Title: Impermanence
Label: The Artisan Era
Date of Release: 12 March 2021
I can count on the fingers of my hands the number of Swiss heavy metal bands that I am familiar with, and still have digits left over. I need even fewer fingers to count the ones that I like. However, having finally been acquainted with Geneva-based Stortregn, I can happily add another name to that small second group because I am seriously impressed with the music I hear here.
‘Impermanence’ is the quintet’s fifth full-length release in a career spanning fifteen years, but first for The Artisan Era. It is also the first of their albums to reach my ears. But I can guarantee that, unless the band break up, ‘Impermanence’ will not be the last. And that’s because these guys are seriously good. Comprised of vocalist Romain Negro, guitarists Johan Smith (also acoustic) and Duran Bathija, bassist Manuel Barrios, and drummer Sauel Jakubec, there is talent in every corner both from a performance and a song writing perspective.
The very best thing about Stortregn, but the worst for a reviewer, is the way in which the final product is so difficult to pigeonhole. Seeing as I’m a music fan first and a critic second, I welcome this with open arms – good music is good music, right? There’s so much going on within the eight compositions on ‘Impermanence’, it can be tricky at times to keep up. I hear black metal, I hear death metal, I hear classic heavy metal, I hear prog, I hear tech. I also hear modern influences as well as hints of the 90s. But most joyously of all for what is essentially an extreme metal record, I hear melody. I hear lots and lots of melody. And what’s more, in spite of the obvious technicality within just about every one of the compositions, there’s a smoothness and an homogenous quality that is often lacking in music like this.
The album, via ‘Ghosts Of The Past’ begins quietly, tentatively, with an acoustic guitar introducing a delicate melody atop the sound of falling rain and a distant thunderstorm. Slowly, deliberately, the bass and drums enter, with an electric guitar taking over that opening melody before the song erupts into a cataclysmic wall of black metal aggression, complete with breakneck drumming, deep growled vocals, vibrant bass, and fast-paced riffs that could rip a face off at fifty yards. And yet, for all the ferocity, the melodies remain close at hand, with a vague early Dissection feel to proceedings. I like the way the vocals shift from deep death growls, to higher-pitched black metal rasps, as it adds extra variety to the material. Spiralling leads come from nowhere, whilst there are breaks in the intensity where the bass is allowed to flourish to nice effect. The drumming is elaborate yet powerful, and the melodic sensibilities become ever more noticeable with repeated listens as the song becomes really rather intoxicating.
Acoustic strumming and intriguing bass playing usher in ‘Moon, Sun, Stars’, a shorter track that continues along a similar vein, albeit perhaps at an even faster and more extreme pace at times. But again, there are moments when the musicians rein back and allow more finesse into the song, not to mention a touch more melody as well.
It’s within ‘Grand Nexion Abyss’ where things get even more exciting too, if that’s possible, because there’s a more demonstrable progressive element that’s added to the already impressive fare. Spanish-style acoustic guitars appear at the outset, which is an unexpected touch, and from there, things really take off. Arguably the swiftest drumming on the album drives some seriously extreme death/black hybrid material but then in comes some epic sounding melody alongside what I deem, as someone with no musical talent whatsoever, as an odd time signature. The song literally bounces around, flitting from idea to idea but always in a way that sounds homogenous and smooth, even when the melody and off-kilter tempos return later in the song. I also love the more relaxed ending, complete with engaging jazz-like drumming.
‘Timeless Splendour’ is another firm highlight too. A groovy opening gives way to warp-speed lead guitar work and a flurry of extreme metal exuberance that again straddles the black/death divide expertly. And then it all falls away to be replaced by whispered vocals and a bold bass line, before we descend into jazz territory principally led by the drums and bass, with the guitar adding the odd embellishment. The effervescent drumming continues alongside the bass as the song builds around it, delivering extended lead guitar solos, both fast and slower-paced to great effect. In the blink of an eye, we’re back in full-on extreme metal territory as if that cool interlude never took place.
Cloing track ‘Nénie’ offers another near-seven-minute pummelling, but what’s most intriguing is that the gruff vocals appear to be delivered in French. It actually works well and is yet another interesting angle offered by Stortregn to enhance what is already another fantastic extreme metal song. There’s no let-up in the brutality, but the song has a more pronounced epic feel thanks to the chosen melodies, brief acoustic guitar breaks, and the anthemic closing minutes which feature more fretboard wizardry on top of the more pronounced melodic intent. The album then comes full circle with an acoustic guitar fading into the sounds of the rain and thunderstorm that began the album some forty-four minutes or so ago.
It’s fair to say that this is one intense album. From minute one, these guys know exactly what they are doing, what they want to achieve, and they go for the jugular. But thanks to the melodious nature of much of the music, they reach for your throat with a hand encased in a soft velvet glove. I have listened to this album frequently for days now and each time I play it, I hear something new, whilst becoming more enamoured with the overall experience. Put as succinctly as I can, ‘Impermanence’ is a damn fine extreme metal record, of which Stortregn should be immensely proud.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: