BardSpec - Hydrogen

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8 Release Date:2017-06-23

The project of Ivar Bjørnson long-standing guitarist of Norwegian Black Metal band Enslaved, Hydrogen is the debut album from BardSpec. Rather than looking to Norse Mythology, a regular focus of his main employer, the landscapes and lush geography of his native country seem more in tune with the ambient soundscapes of this album. Treading on the footsteps of fellow Norwegian Biosphere, whilst maintaining the progressive ethos that Enslaved has taken in recent years, Hydrogen takes a path into blissed out territories but with metal still at its heart.

'Deposition' open with two minutes of pulsing analogue, electronic tones, like Factory Floor or Kraftwerk on Speed, with occasional whooshes of air for company and is pretty much at odds with the rest of the album in length, structure and tone.

'Bone' is a whole different proposition, a ten minute track that opens with atmospherics, spacious guitar notes with a simultaneously spectral and Spanish acoustic flavour and choral synths, that seem like Dead Can Dance soundtracking 1960s Race to Space footage. Percussion that sounds like galloping horses and a throbbing double bass appear, as the drums gather momentum and propel the song forward. With Eastern influences to the fore, the beats become more predominant, as arpeggiod guitars battle in the distance as the song develops.

Programmed hypnotic percussion, with initial bonfire crackling tones and distant high-end e-bowed guitar shimmers launches 'Fire-Tongue'. The song gathers traction as heavily-treated chugged bass notes are introduced, along with synths and effects-laden guitars that envelop and swoop over the song, providing a deep, meditative effect, like a chilled-out Jesu or Mogwai soundtracking The Returned, based in the distant Arctic rather than the French Alps. Heavy 'walking-pace' percussion appears and imposes an additional rhythmic layer to the luscious soundscapes, as additional electronic drums and noises are layered on top culminating in a soaring, crescendoed and triumphant finale.

The highlight of Hydrogen is the awesome 'Gamma'. Glacial synths and ambient noises lead the track, feeling immediately calming and relaxing, becoming louder as field recordings, such as a shortwave radio and spoken words, buried in the background, appear. Lightly plucked guitar notes that could resemble a Music Box, re-programmed by Sigur Ros and gorgeous synths, give hypnotic resonance, that invokes Tangerine Dream or Popul Vuh, mixed with modern day Ambient composers such as Anders Brørby. The beats appear about seven minutes in, along with serene vocals and add increased depth to the bliss, nodding to early M83. An absolutely spellbinding track.

It's perhaps unsurprising that 'Salt' struggles to follow in the footsteps of Gamma, but still does a decent job. Pulsing beats and decaying analogue keys start us off and remain their pace and stance throughout, as treated and buried guitar effects and light electronic percussion appear and the hordes of synths again begin to form. Delayed guitar notes and effects burst through and take centre stage, with the track taking a darker tone than most, however it does not quite possess the immediacy of much of the album, feeling a little overshadowed by it's impressive company and for the first time you start the notice the length of the track rather than being immersed in it.

'Teeth' though is a cracking finale. Echoed cymbals and squelched beats provide backing for an arpeggiod, medieval tinged, borderline prog meets Godspeed You Black Emperor, descending guitar notes, as background noises start to make more of an impact, enhancing the darkening mood. Deep synth bass cords are introduced before drum and bass beats transport the song forward, whilst the chilling atmosphere is maintained. The perfect soundtrack for the end of the day as dusk leads the way into night.

It's very easy to lose yourself listening to Hydrogen, an experimental journey into effortless serenity. Though it may not appeal at first to fans used to Ivar's work in Enslaved, it is a strong record, full of moments of hypnotic beauty.

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