Sjukdom have contributed to the rich Black Metal scene of their country since 2011, with their first live gigs in 2012. In 2013, both a demo and their first full-length album ‘Når alt mørkner’ (‘When All Becomes Dark’) were released. After five years, they have now finally come up with their second album ‘Stridshymner och dødssalmer’ (‘Battle Hymns and Death Psalms’), so let’s give it a listen!
Daemonic voices in Dødssalmer start off the album before the pristine and fast shredding of the instrumentals sets in, with the drums not being too overpowering and the vocals boasting with vile energy and plastic sound. The clean and high-quality production immediately commands attention as it caters to the impressive instrumental work and clarity of the melodic riffs, even if it is perhaps not entirely for fans of Norwegian Black Metal of the early days. The second half of the song is transitioned into with a short percussion part and then continues even more furiously than before, sporting screams and very foregrounding dark riffs. Shortly after, however, we move into similar sound terrain as at the beginning again, with added dramatic guitar melodies on top rounding off the track convincingly.
Nærvær begins with even more dark force and hair-raising screams, and the track generally shows off raw aggression with truly haunting riff work, furious hammering on the drums, lots of cymbals and even polyphonic vocals, the latter of which really increase the depth of atmosphere by combining screams and dark growls.
Lykantropi is off to a somewhat thrashier start, before easing back into more traditional and melodic Black Metal riffing. Again, the vocals show off impressive variation of sound character and the transition into the second half of the song with dark guitars and heart-wrenching screams is a both unsettling and fun listening experience. The rest of the nearly four minutes thrashes forward with lots of bass drum and cymbals, before the track ends in silence rather suddenly.
We continue with Med en fot i graven, a menacing title meaning “with one foot in the grave”. The atmosphere of the track is throughly dark and aggressive and really does the title justice; again, the at times polyphonic vocals as well as the incredibly varied drumming showing off lots of nifty rhythmic tricks and seamlessly working through tempo transitions make this song a convincing one.
Terra Nihil continues the album a little more slowly and with more melodic melancholy; the bass on this track seems more predominant than on the others, which makes for an interesting sound variation that nevertheless retains the characteristically clean yet consumptively Norwegian sound of the band. With 5:22 minutes, this track is on the longer side for this album. However, itseems to pass by even more quickly than the foregoing shorter tracks, which is probably due to the very successful atmospheric build-up manifesting itself in smooth motif transitions and stunningly driving and irate vocals. The fade-out at the end may come across as a little awkward because the shortness of it does not allow the atmosphere to disassemble itself as slowly as would have been beneficial. This especially holds true as I en storm av stål starts off with tempo, incredible blast beats and riffs feeding off high-tempo chord transitions. The vastly resounding vocals really show off the raw beauty of the Norwegian lyrics, whilst tying in symbiotically with the instrumental rhythms, making this song a furious album highlight ending too quickly.
The last track Skudd for skudd continues with no-fuss aggression and successfully manages to leave lots of space for sinister riffing whilst at the same time impressing us, again, with impeccably varied drum madness. Some interspersed German lyrics and spoken word are a bit of a surprise and aural treat, articulated just as clearly as the Norwegian lines.
All in all, Sjukdom’s ‘Stridshymner och dødssalmer’ is a must-listen for anyone who is into vast and epic sound production that manages to re-interpret the flavour of coldly distorted Black Metal instrumentals in a captivating manner. And even for fans of a more low-fi and rancid sound, the skill showcased in both vocals and instrumentals should be reason enough to give this new Norwegian record a listen.