Album Title: Diorama
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 5 November 2021
The very thought of black metal being uplifting and positive is pretty much heresy, certainly if you listen to those that consider themselves to be ‘trve’ black metal fans. And yet, here I am, listening to ‘Diorama’, the second album from Danish band MØL and it’s the most prominent thought in my mind; I’m happy. As I listen, I can hear the black metal elements of the music very clearly, but I’m thinking ‘this is beautiful, melodic, gorgeous music’. And there, in a nutshell, you have the almost unique dichotomy that the subgenre of blackgaze creates. Or at least, that’s what MØL creates. On the one hand, the music on ‘Diorama’ is raw, aggressive, and harsh. On the other, it’s warm, inviting, and so wonderfully life-affirming. Put it all together, and it is the most unlikely of perfect matches. As the wonderful UK PR rep put it in her email to us journos, it’s ‘nasty glitter’. Mind you, with two young daughters, I’m struggling to discover glitter that isn’t nasty to be honest!
Seriously though, not all music of this type is such a success, but MØL are something just a little bit special it seems. I was more than enamoured with their debut, ‘Jord’, finishing that review with the bold statement that MØL could, in the future, rival the likes of Alcest at the top of the blackgaze tree. Based on the content of ‘Diorama’, I’d have to say that this prediction has come true. It’s still early days for the quintet from Aarhus and Midtjylland in Denmark, but they’ve not just jumped the ‘difficult second album’ or ‘sophomore slump’ as it’s become known, they have obliterated it with ‘Diorama’.
I’m late to this review because of two factors: firstly, I’m still playing catch-up after my own mid-year slump and secondly, I wanted to listen to the album as much as possible before putting my thoughts together. Mind you, my thoughts haven’t changed since my first listen – ‘Diorama’ is utterly stunning, and I’m hooked. I’ve listened to it too many times to mention, but I’m not even close to losing interest in the music. If anything, the eight tracks spread over 48 minutes are nigh-on perfect, with new elements coming to the fore each time I spin it.
I have my favourite tracks of course, but it is difficult to not mention them all because there isn’t a wasted moment anywhere on ‘Diorama’, where I even momentarily contemplate a lowering of the bar in terms of quality. From start to finish, this is a class act, and deserves to send guitarists Nicolai Busse Bladt and Frederik Lippert, vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf, bassist Holger Frost, and drummer Ken Lund Klejs into the stratosphere. You think this is over-inflated hyperbole? Think again.
The album starts quietly, tentatively, but out of the silence, a gentle melody emerges, unfurling. The sound of a poignant yet beautiful lead guitar melody gives an early clue about what you might expect as the album develops. It’s all fragile shoegaze at this point as the drums and bass enter stage left. A third of ‘Fraktur’ has elapsed by the time the song explodes on cue, as Sternkopf screams the song title and then holds that scream, agonisingly, to fade out. Whilst heavy and with some original ideas added in for good measure, the extremity is held in check in favour of some more delicious melody. Were it not for the savage barks, you might legitimately refer to the music as simply ‘heavy shoegaze’.
Fading out to the sound of wailing feedback, the opener gives way to the equally magnificent ‘Photophobic’. It’s generally a heavier, more overtly extreme track, but the melodies that permeate the harsh exterior could melt even the iciest heart at fifty paces. We get clean vocals that are layered, ethereal in tone, atop a relatively minimalist soundscape below, before the song descends close to Swallow The Sun-style maudlin, slow-paced beauty. Again, the lead guitar lines are what push the song over the edge, driving the melodies and ensuring that they make their mark time and again.
Without a shadow of doubt however, ‘Serf’ is my favourite track on the entire album. The simple, quiet intro literally breaks my heart, but when the main body of the song kicks in, my heart is mended and filled with wonder thanks to one of the most addictive and glorious melodies I’ve heard for a long time. Flitting between harsh passages, complete with potent blast beats and fast-picked riffing, and lighter, more delicate shoegaze moments, I cannot convey is words just how wonderfully uplifting I find this song.
But, if you think that ‘Diorama’ is all sweetness and light with a touch of heaviness and screams for effect, then you’d be incredibly wrong. More incorrect than I was at the beginning of the year when I thought I’d found my forever person and might dare to live happily ever after. Any notion that MØL have gone soft is expunged by tracks like the thunderous ‘Tvesind’, which begins with more piercing guitar feedback before all hell breaks loose. The ensuing black metal attack is nothing short of a chaotic maelstrom of fury and razor-sharp spite. Mind you, it isn’t long before we’re treated to another stunning chorus melody, majestic and serene, the perfect counterpoint to the earlier attack. Crucially though, the initial aggression reappears throughout this, the longest track on the album thanks to a run-time of over eight minutes. It means that the injections of quiet minimalism are lessened but are all the more powerful as a result. Did I say that ‘Serf’ was my favourite track? Hell, they are all my favourite tracks.
The final song is the album’s title track and it features clean female vocals that duet with a barely audible clean male voice. I hear a lot of bands like Sigur Ros in this song, because the feel of the song is so emotional, but so rich and warm at the same time. ‘Bittersweet’ is a word that springs to mind, but feels woefully inadequate to sum up what I’m feeling as I listen. The screams don’t enter until we’re at the halfway point of the song, and even then, the gentle melodies continue, cascading over me almost soothingly.
I make no secret of the fact that much of this year has been tainted by the searing pain of a broken heart, of despondency, of feelings of futility. But for the first time in probably six months, I am listening to an album that has the power to transport me to another place – a better place. A place of some sorrow, yes, but also to a place of happiness, of joy, and a sanctuary where, for a short while, I forget everything else. I can close my eyes, clear my mind, and just allow the beauty of this music to fill me with positivity and a strength that I feared had left me forever. This, dear readers, is the power of music. This is why I love music. And this is why, with ‘Diorama’, MØL have without a doubt, created one of the best albums of 2021.
The Score of Much Metal: 96%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: