Once much-lauded black metal outfit Vattnet Viskar (which means “the water whispers” in Swedish) has now transformed into just Vattnet (“the water”) with the departure of founding member Nick Thornbury (vocalist/guitarist). And while the band’s sound had already evolved quite a bit over the years, now it takes a similarly drastic turn.
It had been quite a while since I listened to Vattnet Viskar, so I went back and listened to their self-titled 2012 EP, 2013’s Sky Swallower and 2015’s The Settler. The EP is straight-up atmospheric black metal, filled with furious blast beats topped with a blaze of sorrowful tremolo guitar and half-drowned roar-screams. Sky Swallower is more varied — there are still all-out black metal passages but they sometimes give way to minimalist or more melodic moody meditations, and the changes in pace and volume are quite stark. The heavy passages aren’t purely black metal but have a droning doomy aspect as well, and the intense parts where black metal speed combines with stoner doom’s thick, fuzzy sound have a noisy quality that I found aggravating. Settler brings in some death metal and melodic metal influences as well, with vocals creeping a little closer to a death growl, a strong snare drum in the blast beats, and some melodic guitar solos and riffs here and there. There are still plenty of black metal tremolo melodies – which sound shiningly clear compared to parts where things reach a grindcore-ish level of noisiness.
Vattnet is a drastic departure from all this with a significantly lighter sound that can sometimes be called post-metal, sometimes post-rock. There’s no more tremolo riffing or roaring harsh vocals, and the blasts of furious drumming (like at the beginning of “Spun”) are few and far between. That’s not to say there’s no heaviness, but it’s a more restrained and less furious heaviness. The opening of “Dark Black,” for instance, is pretty heavy, but it’s more of a sludge or stoner metal type of heaviness. The vocals (now done by bassist Casey Aylward) range from plaintive emo-style singing, to more forceful pop-punk singing, to anguished, but not harsh, screams, to light and dreamy vocalizations. It’s hard to generalize about the album since each song seems to go in a different direction. For instance, “Sugar” takes off with fast riffs that could be black metal played in a major key. The song has the thickness and distortion of atmospheric black metal, but exudes joy and hope, with joyous fast sections, an expansive chorus that will grow your heart a size or two, and upbeat clean vocals. (Although this wouldn’t be the first happy-sounding “black metal” I’ve heard – see Deafheaven or Vallendusk – but even they aren’t this bright and shiny.) “Ghost,” meanwhile, is a much moodier and slower song, and reminds me a lot of The Ocean, both in its trudging heavy riffage and its dreamy segments with airy vocals. This might be my favorite song on the album, with its beautiful, sad soundscapes and its range of vocals, from dreamy to sudden anguished screams. “Chains,” meanwhile pursues the stoner sound with very fuzzy rocking riffs, though it isn’t without its progressive forays, too.
It would be a misnomer to call this album purely post-rock – this isn’t a clear break from metal in the vein of Anathema. It’s still a big change with the dropping of pretty much all black metal influences, while retaining or pursuing some bits of stoner doom and some harder-to-categorize metal vibes. With this album, Vattnet straddles the line between bands like The Ocean and post-rock. Of course, with the constant evolution of their sound in the past, I think it’s safe to say they probably won’t be staying put there.