Underground Sounds: Stilla – Skuggflock

Label: Nordvis
Band: Stilla
Origin: Sweden

What if you let go of the clichés that make up black metal and you explore a direction that is more organic, more close to heart and understandable. Ok, Stilla is still a black metal band of the atmospheric sort, but there’s something honest and straightforward to the band that makes them stand apart in a sea of rather unremarkable acts.

Previous offerings by Still are already highly appreciated thanks to their authentic flavor. This third release somehow brings it all together. The Swedish band creates something that is both engaging and densely atmospheric.

What I find particularly typical to the sound of Stilla is the assault. There is no passive beholder/listener, because the elements that make the songs constantly assault you and create tension. That puts them a bit on their own trajectory compared to the run of the mill atmospheric bands. This is immediately on the opener ‘Irrfärd’. It translates as ‘roving expedition’, but immediately spells danger. Threat of predators, threat of the elements and of the companions on this journey. The true assault starts on the next song with natural sounding blast beats. There’s no polished production but a very natural, full sound to the music. The vocals are intrusive, confrontational even at points. As if another is shouting in your face. All part of the journey.

In the meantime the guitars create archs that give a more atmospheric feeling. They sound rather decadent in combination with the gruff rhythms. Sometime Still even has a bit of a bold swagger to their sound. For example the song ‘I Tystnad Vilar Själen’, which reminds me a bit of the Satyricon groove of later records. Clean vocals are a peculiar thing on the album, but on this song they’re there. Somehow it gives the track a more earthy, punky aura. I think that’s pretty cool.

You also hear some clear Enslaved influences, with more progressive, stretched out soundscapes being presented. The wild, wind swept nature is evoked by the sound, the image of a rugged land with strong bones jutting from the earth in the shape or mountains and hills. In that sense there’s a hang towards the Cascadian black metal genre (or post black metal as some call it). The chanting, the synths, they all point towards a more subtle and natural sound. Still, every time the band pushes that a bit, they soon jump back to the more conventional sound.

Maybe on that front the song ‘Till den som skall komma’ is most typical for where Stilla is at now. The free darting guitars, the subtle tempo shift, but also the ragged, traditional black metal buzzsaw drone still there. The eerie organ, but also the barked, commanding vocals and cymbal-clashing blast beats. This is also where the charm of Stilla is, it lies in their duality and tension between the two faces of the band. That’s what makes this record so interesting, by showing both the harshness and the beauty in one form.

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