Having been born and raised in Norway, the sound of Black/thrash is as comforting to me as the sound of a crackling fire, the lively spritz of an opened beer can or the voice of a loving mother. Being fed records by Nekromantheon, Aura Noir and Condor through my umbilical cord has –apart from severely damaging precious internal organs- helped me relate to my fellow countrymen where more obvious cultural rally points have failed. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible to write a black/ thrash record and ship it to my tarn-side dwelling without me enjoying it at least a smidge.
Seemingly pleased with the odds, Svarttjern has done exactly that with their latest record; Shame is Just a Word. The consistently enjoyable outfit has been ping-ponging between black and thrash over ten years and four albums, the defining factor of each usually being whether it accentuates the ping (Black) or the pong (Thrash). They continue this display of athletic prowess on their 2020 project, refusing to let either sound take full hold of the reins.
Barrelling out of the gates like a flock of burning geese comes “Prince of Disgust”, the punchy and concise first single from the album. Featuring to-the-point riffing interspersed with some dissonant flirtations with headier sounds, it reeks of love for both the past and present of the subgenre. Hansfyrste (vocals) rasps and hollers like an absolute madman throughout the song, recalling a Nocturno Culto feverish with night terrors. The songwriting is strong, hampered only by a loose and wandering bridge and a questionable fade-out.
After this relatively ping affair, we are met with a strong pong-ping-pong combo. “Ment til å Tjene” thrashes away in brilliant manner, turning up with some big riffs and sneaky grooves. “Melodies of Lust” is by far the most impressive track on the album, managing to cram in so many different sides of the band it makes most of the other songs on the record superfluous. After teasing the listener with a requisite clean-guitar and bubbly-porridge-on-the-stove introduction, they open the doors to greatness through some towering riffs, structural sleight-of-hand’s and a melodious expanse towards the end that awes like a more temperate Borknagar.
After this breath-taking vista, we’re thrown back into the snus- and piss-filled pits of “Ta dets Drakt”. While enjoyable enough taken by itself, as a follow-up to the pine-scented “Melodies…” it fails to leave a distinct odour of its own. “Frost Embalmed Abyss” tries to correct the course by way of its wonderfully upsized intro- and verse-sections, proving that ambition seems to wake something primal in this band. Unfortunately, the bridge of the song stumbles into the same non-descript thrash of the previous track, and ‘unfortunatelier’, so does the rest of the record. “Ravish Me” is easily the least effective track of the bunch, and the inclusion of a growled cover of Exodus’ “Bonded by Blood” does little more than spotlight the familial connections between Thrash and Black Metal.
After the batshit power-organ/vocoder(?) solo at the end of the title track, we’re left sitting in our half-emptied crate of beer, wondering why this crisp slice of black/thrash didn’t knock us over as hard as the packaging promised. While the first couple of spins showed promise, the lustre started to dim little by little throughout subsequent listens. As “Melodies of Lust” and the first half of “Frost Embalmed Abyss” shows, there lives a beast within Svarttjern that longs to stumble out of the musty dive bar and into the majesty of the Norwegian wilderness, unbeholden to the tenets of the mosh-church. If they could unshackle this adventurous impulse and let it flail around unrestrained, I would not rule it out of their capacities to produce an end-of-the-year contender. But as it stands, Shame is Just a Word fails to stand toe to toe with the rest of the their peers in the norwegian league of black/thrash.