Eight years have passed since VILDHJARTA released a new record (the superb "Thousands Of Evils" EP), and the heavy music landscape has changed sufficiently that the Swedes' long-awaited full-length sounds every bit as contrary and otherworldly as its predecessor ("Måsstaden") did in 2011, despite the familiarity of their crushing, futuristic sound. Frequently dismissed as MESHUGGAH clones, VILDHJARTA only share some bare-bones rudiments with their fellow countrymen: most notably giant, seven-string riffs and a shared disdain for traditional time signatures. Dig deeper into this sprawling, 81-minute colossus and it becomes abundantly clear that VILDHJARTA have been steadily evolving as time has ticked inexorably on.
"Lavender Haze"'s opening cacophony sets the tone: a warped and willful re-imagining of that initial three-dimensional-djent blueprint, it's a tangle of riffs and mechanical tension, but with endless textural static filling the sonic picture. "Kaos2"'s lurching, sledgehammer assault repeats the trick, with layered vocals and hissing, electric fog leaking skimming the paintwork on that monstrous, riff-driven undercarriage; while "Toxin" is a brief but devastating slab of knucklehead tech-doom with cavernous bottom end and a bad attitude. As it progresses, "Måsstaden Under Vatten" reveals more of its secrets. "Brännmärkt" is death metal heavy and dark as hell, but with multiple twists, turns and tangential tempo tricks; "Den Helige Anden (Under Vatten)" embraces a hulking, four-to-the-floor beat and a strong sense of existential melancholy, before erupting in polyrhythmic slow motion and dragging the world down with it.
Admittedly, this is not an album full of love or hope. Where many of their obvious peers and contemporaries favor the light-and-shade approach, VILDHJARTA have not compromised one iota on the brutality that underscores everything they do. Neither is this an album for those with a short attention span: the atmosphere that the Swedes generate builds incrementally, through the savage structures of its first few songs, into the more dramatic and curiously catchy likes of "Passage Noir" and "Sunset Sunrise", and on to the riveting dynamics, skewed hooks and ululating sludge of the epic "Vagabond" and "Phantom Assassin"'s ghostly post-rock pugilism. Like some magnificent, futuristic and unfathomable steel sculpture erupting from the earth beneath our feet, "Måsstaden Under Vatten" is an exercise in black-hearted tech-metal as an art form: episodic and immersive, it's the kind of record that demands commitment. But when you hear something as jaw-dropping and alien as grand finale "Paaradiso" — ten minutes of glacial, mechanistic and unpredictable destruction, with a disarming, pitch-black coda — it will be commitment given willingly. The wait has been more than worth it. VILDHJARTA are back with a (very weird and wonderful) vengeance.