A companion piece to Solefald’s somewhat grim, Scandinavian-flavored Kosmopolis Nord EP, World Metal: Kosmopolis Sud is a brightly colored, wickedly smart LP, with a diverse, rangy style that recalls the band’s pre-millennial classic Neonism while resisting the temptation to imitate it.
Solefald uses extreme metal as a solid foundation for a more holistic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Unlike its immediate processor, World Metal looks south to Africa and across the Atlantic to the Americas for inspiration, resulting in a sound that is difficult to pin down or pigeonhole. You can simply call it metal, but that’s a bit like describing Bitches Brew as “jazz” in 1970—it’s broadly accurate but doesn’t quite capture the spirit of the thing. It really is something new.
Upon first listen, World Metal sounds like a chaotic pastiche of genres, concepts and sonic textures, but within a few listens it begins to cohere into something solid and tangible, a strange and exotic beast to be sure, but one with a clear, consistent and provocative identity. Each song contains enough ideas for an entire album, but they’re expertly placed and arranged, and always advance the music. The opening track, “World Music With Black Edges” moves fluidly between heavy death metal and jazzy clean guitar licks, managing to run through several other sounds in the process—hard-driving techno, Laibach-esque industrial, frenetic East African percussion and all the above. The song may seem eclectic, but has one unified tone, an uplifting, heavily orchestrated energy that is wholly, unmistakably Solefald.
The songs that follow include just as much variety: playful thumb piano courtesy Tanzanian virtuoso Anania Ngoliga, epic industrial metal with heavily processed vocals, pounding Euro-club-ready EDM, NWOBHM-worthy guitar licks, synth-heavy progressive rock, Middle-eastern melodies, catchy punk and pop hooks, and rollicking conga breakdowns (the best use of congas in a metal context since the release of Chaos AD). My favorite song, “La Soleil” takes this eclectic approach to its highest level, marrying metal to Tanzanian rhythms and incredibly upbeat and strangely epic vocal arrangements that stick in your head like a wormy pop song. “La Soleil” boasts an incredibly warm atmosphere, miles away from the old gray extreme metal overcast, and is downright inspiring in its tropical audacity.
The fact that all this congeals together into a coherent whole is attributable, I think, to the continuous presence of the basic Solefald sound that runs through every song: Lars Are Nedland’s keyboard acrobatics and inimitable high singing voice, Cornelius Jakhelln’s crunchy guitar and low, growling vocals (they may sound like death metal but often move with the rhythmic cadence of rap), and the duo’s ability to wring hooks out of symphonic metal grandeur, a talent for making cerebral stuffiness bombastic and fun. This basic approach is amazingly elastic, and seemingly capable of accommodating any style that can fit within the time of the drums, quite often the one element that makes the overall music metal.
Cornelius’s uniformly excellent lyrics also serve as thematic glue, with songs about the odd transpositions of a globalized culture, the relative decline of Norway and social democracy, the political upheavals and parallel cultural developments of twentieth-century Europe and U.S., the mass-murdering wannabe crusader Anders Breivik, and the devastating loss of a parent—what makes these hefty topics work as songs is a fun, highly subjective and personal approach, one that takes on more weight as the album enters into its final, melancholic third that begins with a generally thunderous and epic approach before drifting into a sad, droning finale. After all the cosmopolitanism, the album closes out with gray Norwegian skies, the comfort of home irreversibly altered by a wider perspective.
There is a tendency in the metal scene to call out albums like this for engaging in weirdness for weirdness’ sake, bands throwing in left-field genre excursions as a substitute for core musical ideas. But World Metal doesn’t sound like that at all. It feels unified and complete, a sincere musical statement that acknowledges the incestuous intersections of global popular culture, the fact that everyone in the world is freely appropriating sounds and ideas from everywhere else. The songs are critical of the current world order, but are also of it, and there is humility in their lyrics and cultural appropriations—they suggest a world rich in creativity and ideas, wider than any subculture or musical puritanism will allow. There is more out there in the world than one person, musical genre or nation can readily grasp, more energy, power and grandeur that can be contained or digested. World Metal speaks to that feeling.
01 – World Music With Black Edges
02 – The Germanic Entity
03 – Bububu Bad Beuys
04 – Future Universal Histories
05 – La Soleil
06 – 2011, Or A Knight Of The Fail
07 – String The Bow Of Sorrow
08 – Oslo Melancholy