Qwälen have appeared seemingly out of nowhere from the depths of Finland to assault our ears with a monstrous debut album Unohdan Sinut (meaning “I Forget You” in Finnish). A fusion of black metal fury with a raw punk edge, the album brings the concepts of loss and devastation to the fore, when you realise you have nothing left to comfort you. Highly charged seething misanthropy is definitely the order of the day from this Finnish quintet.
Whilst the album itself is drenched in a crackling, distorted fuzz it aids to reinforce the album’s darker theme and concepts, there is an underlying estranged personal hope buried beneath the chaotic sound. This idea of burning your harrowed past in the hope to rebuild in a ravaged and dystopian environment. On the surface it seems like a straightforward black metal album, but the band’s members have cut their teeth in Finland’s punk scene, this seeps into their interpretation of black metal. This interpretation contains traces of the traditional black metal influence provided by Darkthrone, Bathory, etc., but the driving aggression through the ice cold atmosphere is undoubtedly rooted in hardcore punk. The vocal delivery is also a testament to this punk background, often coming in short sharp bursts.
The relentless thrashing never ceases, from the start of the album to its concluding, distorted feedback fade out on ‘Temppeli’, Unohdan Sinut is hard to forget contrary to the title’s meaning. Opening up the album with the harrowing ‘Pimeä Tila’, Qwälen harken back to the early black metal stylings of Mayhem but with a significantly blistering pace and bruising riffs. Even so, each song follows a set formula of precisely timed chaos and merciless distortion, with the only exception being ‘Hän Ei Tule Koskaan’. The song’s rumbling bass intro sets up a solid groove, which is then lost in a cacophony of guitars. However, the atmosphere of the album is intensely dark and cold, the harrowing screams of E’s vocals echoing into a dark black void sends chills up the spine. What will never cease to amaze and garner admiration from the listener is how the band have managed to keep up such unyielding energy throughout the album, each song is brutally aggressive and visceral. Title track ‘Unohdan Sinut’ packs the biggest punch whilst resonating witch dissonance and unnervingly inharmonious, as if it was written within the depths of the abyss only to be spewed out the mouth of Satan himself and with that barbaric approach to misanthropy it is something that penetrates the very soul.
Despite the various merits, the album feels fairly one dimensional in some areas compared to peers in the black metal scene. This ceaseless raw aggression from start to finish is brilliant and admirable, but it lends itself to only having one set direction in terms of dynamic range and possible rhythmic variation, with exception of ‘Viekää Minut Pois’ and album closer ‘Temppeli’. Both those songs contain more groove based sections which offer some respite from the audible onslaught. It can become difficult for the listener to distinguish between songs, but in some ways this is a positive as it gives the album a consistent continuity that supports the themes of spiralling devastation, destruction and then rebuilding in the dark shadows of the apocalypse.
Overall the album does have a unique punk anchor, which isn’t especially common in black metal, this gives the album bite and attitude. With the scene in Finland continually evolving into its own distinct sonic identity, Qwälen will cement their own place on the more experimental side of black metal in due course.
Unohdan Sinut is released February 19th via Time To Kill Records.