REVIEW: Vildhjarta – Masstaden Under Vatten [2021]

Artist: Vildhjarta

Album: Måsstaden Under Vatten

            When it comes to progressive metalcore, there are no shortage of niche subgenres and styles that have found occult popularity. Chief among them is the extreme end of the djent spectrum, jokingly referred to as thall—and when it comes to thall, there is no band quite like Vildhjarta. Combining monstrous, doom-tinted elements of progressive metal with chunky, groovy breakdowns and enough atmosphere to house a whole planet, the band’s long-awaited full length release, Måsstaden Under Vatten follows in the conceptual and thematic footsteps of their debut while stepping up the intensity, production and aggression tenfold. Vilhjarta are a ruthless groove machine fleshed out with spine-cracking breakdowns and riffs that are simultaneously dangerously catchy and bizarrely quirky. Heavy, mesmerizing and, frankly, a little weird at times, Måsstaden Under Vatten is a vicious record that sees those who thall best reclaiming their throne with an iron grip and voracious appetite.

            Måsstaden Under Vatten is a vicious record that uses everything from atmosphere to awe-inspiring breakdowns to oppress the listener thoroughly. What’s even more impressive, however, is how tight and cohesive all of Vildhjarta manage to sound, even at their most dissonant. Songs like “Vagabond” or “Sunset Sunrise” highlight this excellently, with flashy, intense percussion that serves as a spicy and robust foundation for jarring, ten-ton chugs and unpredictable grooves that worm their way into the listener’s head as if they were a parasite. Meanwhile, “Passage Noir” or “Paaradiso” lay heavy on the more atmospheric elements abundant in Vildhjarta’s playbook. Here, the band use vaguely blackened elements within their fretwork, blending a haunting feeling into the otherwise ethereal post-metallic mood that pops up within these songs. Vildhjarta are multifaceted to say the least, which applies to their entire dynamic the same way in applies to its individual components. Måsstaden Under Vatten’s percussion is simply phenomenal—and while this isn’t new to the band (or to those who have followed the band), it deserves to be said doubly for this record. While “Kaos2” and “Toxin” paint a frantic, jarring picture, songs like “Sunset Sunrise” (or its subsequent component) see a balanced approach to disastrous heaviness. Meanwhile, the band’s more atmospheric songs see a more tempered approach to percussion, in favor of letting the band’s fretwork (and the album’s incredible production) shine. When it comes to Måsstaden Under Vatten,  it fits every criteria one would want from a conventional album with the “thall’ moniker—the breakdowns feel cinematic-yet-spastic, and the riffs feel as though they are the feet of ten-ton mammoths crushing the listener, bolstered by dense, beey bass tones. To top it off, the record’s production lends a beautiful finish to the entire experience, giving it a slight grit and “edge” while still allowing everything to feel clean and largely polished.

            Just as Vildhjarta’s instrumentation is a mixed bag, the band’s vocal effort keeps the listener on their toes as well. “Penny Royal Poison” and “Toxin,” as well as “Mitt Tröja Harta” see an incessant barrage of gritty, intense bellows and shouts that perfectly highlight the aggressive nature of the respective tracks. Meanwhile, where various moments of ethereality shine through on Måsstaden Under Vatten, eerie-yet-stunning singing does as well. Throughout the 81-minute adventure, Vildhjarta take the listener on a sprawling journey through an immense array of vocal styles sure to appease even the pickiest listeners within the metalcore and progressive metal circuit. Where the records’ heaviest moments are accompanied with gutbusting bellows and grisly low screams, the juxtaposition of pristine singing alongside gritty, grisly grooves instantly grabs the listener’s attention—and likewise, the moments where Vildhjarta opt to let the percussion or flashy fretwork do the talking speak just as loudly as the most intense vocal segments.

            Måsstaden Under Vatten is the record Vildhjarta fans—and progressive metalcore fans in general—have been waiting for over the last 10-ish years. A raunchy display of ruthless groove and relentless aggression blended carefully with mesmerizing instrumentation and inventive storytelling done to damn-near perfection. If it isn’t the neck-snapping breakdowns or the what-the-hell-was-that drumming, it’s the incredible vocal variety or the incredible fashion in which the record’s concept manages to melt into its sonic soundscape and instrumental dynamism. While it remains a lengthy and somewhat dense venture, Māsstaden Under Vatten is a beautiful, bold and brutalizing experience for any who take it on.


For Fans Of: Reflections, Mushuggah, Humanity’s Last Breath

By: Connor Welsh