Album Review: MØL – “Diorama” (Blackgaze)

Written by Ellis Heasley

MØLDiorama

Blackgaze from Aarhus, Denmark

Releases November 5, 2021 via Nuclear Blast Records

For a genre that once felt so fresh, blackgaze seems to have strayed a bit into ‘by the numbers’ territory in recent years. Stick some uplifting melodies on top of the usual blast beats and tremolo-picking, humbly accept your 8/10 review and get out of the way before another band comes along with more of the same. It can feel pretty special then when a band like MØL produces a record like Diorama. The follow-up to 2018’s already quite remarkable Jord, it’s one of just a few records that genuinely seems to step out of the perhaps ironic shadow of Deafheaven‘s Sunbather and do something new and exciting.

Admittedly, a lot of the words one might use to describe this record will have cropped up in near enough every blackgaze review you’ve read since 2013, to the point that they run the risk of selling things short here. Perhaps the most obvious of all is ‘beautiful’; Diorama is a stunning record from start to finish, this driven especially by the outstanding melodic lead work of guitarists Nicolai Busse Bladt and Frederik Lippert. Together, the duo soar, solo, harmonise and more all over this record, their parts cutting through with impressive clarity throughout. Fourth track “Vestige” is a prime example, its driving verses giving way to the kind of chorus lead line you should be able to sing back after just one listen.

Of course, there is a menace to Diorama too though. Frontman Kim Song Sternkopf in particular can add a real nastiness to proceedings, acting as something of a screaming banshee atop the band’s otherwise quite beautiful soundscapes. For the most part, his vocals lean towards the kind of razor sharp fry screams that are typical to black metal, but they do occasionally take on a more monstrously guttural quality, as on seventh track “Tvesind”. Then again, even the vocals can bring beauty to this record, with several tracks seeing Sternkopf and guest vocalist Kathrine Shepard of Sylvaine adding stirring cleans to MØL’s already powerful arsenal. These slot into the band’s sound perfectly, hammering home their shoegaze influences perhaps more than ever before.

All this is great, but one thing that really starts to differentiate MØL from many of their peers on Diorama is their ability to be absolutely crushing – not just abrasive or savage or whatever other word might spring to mind here, but genuinely, world-endingly crushing. This record often grooves way harder than anything black metal-adjacent has any right to, with tracks like “Photophobic” and “Serf” even mustering Gojira-esque levels of heft and chug. These comparisons come to the fore even more so on the aforementioned “Tvesind” – a firm overall highlight whose double-kick-driven verses recall the Frenchmen at their most thunderous gallop, while still maintaining a sense of MØL’s own identity.

Artwork by Jon Gotlev

Tying all these threads together is the band’s solid command of, well, pretty much everything. Dynamics, song craft, album flow, runtime… MØL nail it all. In doing so, they’ve crafted an album whose eight tracks and 46 minutes seem to pass in the blink of an eye, with everything produced to gloriously expansive perfection in the seasoned hands of Tue Madsen.

THE BOTTOM LINE

In case it wasn’t already abundantly clear, Diorama is both essential listening and an absolute must-purchase. It’s an album that can be as heavy as Gojira or as beautiful as Sigur Rós, but it’s always undeniably MØL. That’s what makes this special. In a scene where even quite remarkable bands and records can blend in with the pack, Diorama stands powerfully tall.

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