Written by Kep
Speglas – Time, Futility & Death
> Progressive death metal
> Releasing November 18
> Pulverised Records
There’s this little pocket of Swedish death metal based in Stockholm that’s somewhat quietly produced nothing but sterling releases that rank among the absolute best of the style in the 21st century. It started with the Robert Andersson-led Morbus Chron, who formed in 2007 and put out two EPs and two full-lengths, all of them critically acclaimed in the underground metal scene, before breaking up in 2015. In the year of their breakup and from that fertile musical ground came Speglas, created by Isak Rosemarin, who had played live with Morbus Chron and was close friends with Andersson. Eventually, in 2020, another new project called Sweven—named after the final Morbus Chron album—was also founded by Andersson, its three-man lineup including Rosemarin.
Why am I laying all this background out for the review of a single EP? It’s partly because I think this group of musicians is a particularly fascinating part of metal history, but it’s also because the three bands have clear and notable similarites in their sounds—if you dig Morbus Chron or Sweven, you’ll dig Speglas. The emotive, always-exploring-but-never-lost approach to songwriting and the delightfully spacious mix that characterized Speglas’ 2015 debut Birth, Dreams & Death was clearly influenced by the progressive stylings of Sweven, and Rosemarin called on Andersson to record, mix, and master it. For the project’s newest offering, Time, Futility & Death, those similarities continue in a work that’s plainly indicative of a band continuing to perfect its own remarkable voice.
The five tracks and 29 minutes of this EP are filled with production that’s reminiscent of old school Swedish death metal, but balanced deftly with the advantages of modern tech. The progressiveness is baked into both the riffs themselves and the instrumentation; the guitars rove through a variety of meters and rhythmic approaches, and there are lushly layered acoustic passages and touches of piano in nearly every song. Everything is marked by a sense of intelligent restraint, where no solo indulges in showing off above expression, keyboards are smartly dotted into the texture instead of breaking the musical flow to speak alone, and each song feels as though it has a clear trajectory that it follows to its natural end.
Any fan of good death metal will find things to love in Time, Futility & Death. “Voyage” brings to mind Whoracle-era In Flames with its loping 6/8 riff, a swinging melodic thing that feels like it wants to scoop you up and carry you off, and Speglas adds a touch of sweetness with piano chords that outline the harmonic changes. Part of the beauty of their approach is in its relative simplicity: the mix affords plenty of room for the instruments to work and the harmonies aren’t overly complex, leaving plenty of room for exploration. There are plenty of punchy duples juxtaposed against triplets, and Jesper Nyrelius’ delightfully understated drum performance highlights these. There’s a point about midway through the track where Rosemarin lays down a evocative solo over a lively cross rhythm in the drums that’s goddamn delightful.
Rosemarin’s multi-instrumental performance is at the heart of the release, his riffs never anything less than thoughtful and full of meaning, his hoarse shouting vocals full of a combination of desperation and resignation. Even the intro track, “Leap”, feels like it’s got something to say, a palpable urgency in the layered acoustics that urges the listener forward even before the drums join near its end. When “Avow” begins, connected with no break, it’s like the current has finally broken down some unknown barrier, toppling it with immense chords and then rushing headlong with dry blasts in the drums. Even in moments like that, where Rosemarin’s screams drive the music forward with angst and the rhythm section clatters away, the themes in the guitars carry a depth of emotion that few bands can claim. The futility of the record’s title, and the contrasting hope against it, is alive in the riffs. The latter part of the EP’s finale, “One Last Midnight”, feels exactly like that as it charges to the denouement, ripping its own heart out with every blast-accompanied melody.
I’ve been consistently blown away by the way that Time, Futility & Death feels earnest above all else. There’s no bluster here, no bullshit, no self-congratulatory noodling or moments that sacrifice flow for novelty. The songs are as well-composed as any I’ve ever heard, and they feel honest, like staring into the soul of the artist. “At the Precipice” is the standout track for me, its six minutes a flawless narrative from darkly soulful thought to sunshine-breaking-through-the-clouds beauty to driving excitement to intrepid determination. Its vocals end with a short passage of cleans a little over halfway through, and a solo guitar line pours freedom like rain. By the time the song arrives at its end, a 45-second acoustic postlude, so much has transpired that the peace of the outro is tangible, and makes you feel whole.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is not your typical death metal album, not by a long shot. Fans of big dumb riffs, fiery speed, and heaviness for heaviness’ sake, look elsewhere; Speglas isn’t very “heavy”, they eschew breakneck tempos in favor of something with more space and nuance, and they’re uninterested in the sort of repetitive headbang-bait that so much death metal features. But fans of metal that makes you think, and makes you feel, this is a release that will speak to you. It’s without a doubt the best EP I’ve heard this year.