Swedish Black Metal solo project Kvaen, masterminded by Jacob Björnfot, return with a second studio album, The Great Below, a more than worthy follow up to their 2020 blistering debut, The Funeral Pyre.
Kvaen – The Great Below (Black Lion Records)
Release Date: Out Now
Words: Jools Green
The Funeral Pyre featured eight tracks packed with an irresistibly engaging meld of Black Thrash, Pagan and Speed Metal that echoes the likes of Necrophobic, Nifelheim, Deströyer 666 and Desaster.
This debut featured a collection of superb guest musicians, including Sebastian Ramstedt (Necrophobic, ex-Nifelheim), Perra Karlsson (Dreadful Fate, In Aeternum, ex-Deströyer 666) and Danni Jelsgaard (ex-Svartsot). This time drummer Tommi Tuhkala accompanies Jacob along with yet another impressive list of special guests, which I will expand upon shortly.
The Great Below, to the greater part, maintains an intensely delivered rapid tempo, thanks to that infernal infusion of Thrash and Speed Metal into the Blackened core of the sound, with acerbic and vitriolic vocals delivered with brutal clarity of content. Opening with a blood-curdling scream on Cauldron Of Plagues, carefully applied melodic bursts add variation and texture to the driving blackened riffs that speed their way across the length of the track. An attention-grabbing piece of music.
Next, The Great Below takes on a very Black n’ Thrash drive, punctuated with thrashy bursts of riffing. It is another almost unrelenting offering because it drops mid-way just long enough to make room for a rather sumptuous swathe of leadwork, making it an utterly engaging beast of a track.
In contrast, In Silence opens with an eerie soundbite setting the scene for a shift of pace. Slower, blacker with an ominous air to the delivery, the wistfully reflective guitar segment drops in for maximum effect. A hugely impactful and powerfully dark track that also features additional vocals from Nephente Fridell (Netherbird) and a beautifully haunting swathe of second-half leadwork.
The pace is back up for Damnations Jaw, a dark driving beast with a melodic undercurrent and a subtle ebb and flow in pace that utterly engages your attention again, featuring a guitar solo from Mike Wead (King Diamond) just after the mid-point mark.
The next track, Sulphur Fire, has that attention-grabbing factor from the offset as blackened riffs merge with driving drum rhythms and acerbic blackened screams. I love the distant vocal backing vocal chants; again, great second half leadwork just to complete the piece.
Things get shaken up a little with Ensamvarg, a track with a slightly different feel thanks to a notable presence of keyboard work, particularly as they come to the forefront midway through. Ensamvarg also features a guitar solo by Sebastian Ramstedt (Necrophobic) and additional vocals and accordion courtesy of Rasmus Rova (Autumn Death), and lyrics in Swedish by Kristian Gustavsson (Bleeding Utopia). A very reflective yet powerful track that also has a slightly folky quality.
Your Mighty Has Fallen arrives like a brutal storm, driving and unrelenting riffs that twist and writhe madly alongside squealing and soaring leads. This superb track packs a massive punch and is quite a shock and surprise after its predecessor, pulling you out of the reverie you might have slipped into.
The Fire Within Him Burns is a superb closing piece with choral backing vocals, driving riffs, blistering leadwork, and additional vocals from Vreth (Finnitroll). Opening and closing piano arrangements at the start and finish are by Robin Mattsson (Meadows End), which add a haunting reflective atmosphere to the track.
I thought I knew which were my favourite tracks as I began listening to The Great Below, but honestly, the further in I got, the less certain I became. I love every track for different reasons, so no favourites, after all, just an exhilarating end to end listen.
There is a definite Necrophobic feel to the sound, which adds even more appeal to me. This album might tread a well-walked path, but it does so magnificently.
The Great Below is available from Black Lion Records https://storeblacklion.nu/sv/kvaen/ as a limited-edition CD, digipak CD, cassette, limited edition vinyl in a choice of four colours and as a digital release.