Malsten - The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill (2020)
Following up on their Torsion single from May of last year, the Swedish doom quartet of Malsten (which translates to 'grindstone', or, more thematically, 'millstone') have emerged more fully with this, their debut album. Leading off, naturally enough, with the song from that preceding single, the album gets underway on a horripilating vibe, with feedback and synths rolling out an uneasy tension before the guitar comes in with a raw-edged riff. It's a nice, broad-shouldered progression, and the band takes their time building it out for a bit before expanding things with the vocal incorporation. Should you wish to follow along with the lyrics, you'll get to explore the dastardly doings of the titular mill's owner. According to the band, this album shares only the first four chapters/tracks of that story; an uncommon approach, but the distinctiveness is well appreciated.
Through each of the songs (“Immolation”, “Grinder”, and “Compunction” follow, in that order), Malsten show themselves to be quite skilled not just with the moment-to-moment doom, but also at the larger shaping of the songs, and their place in the album as a whole. They're able to dig into a riff or rhythm interaction and tease it into something new, without it seeming overly indulgent or dry. The slow slides into relative calm, when they're used, are effectively offset by crashing returns, and their use of synth textures (courtesy of member Andreas, who's also the bassist) lends the music some engaging further dimensions. Bridges and breaks come through naturally, without a sense of over-orchestration, and the band's ability to keep strong momentum flowing through the various change-ups is one of the album's most impressive qualities.
Heaviness is abundant (and then some), but it's managed with an ear towards how it can strengthen the song, rather than being a persistent, unchanging weight across everything, as some doom bands fall into doing. The band also operates so smoothly with how its individual instruments come together, it can go right over your head how well they're playing off of each other if you're just grooving along with it. But they've definitely got the chops, as this excellent first album shows, and finding out how they grow from here is going to be very exciting. If fine-crafted traditional doom is your thing (or if it's not, but you're willing to give it a shot), do yourself a favor and pick this up once it's out. Pre-orders start July 3rd, full release is July 24th, vinyl is coming through Interstellar Smoke Records. Hats off to Malsten.
For Fans Of; Descend Into Despair, Earthshine, The Fateful Hour, Heavydeath, HellLight