“Shakespearian” is the word that first pops to mind when seeing the cover of ØLTEN’s latest album. I remember very well a passage from “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice”, reading thus: “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” I still see my English teacher grinning, as someone reads this phrase out loud and he explains its meaning.
Of course, I reject the cultural manifestation of racism that lies within this line, for this cover photograph is much more than a senseless piece of white power-propaganda. For myself, I see nothing but a goddess, nothing but an Oba, an Osun, an Oya, a Yemoja. I see a black ram, not in a mounting position, but rather in a place of submission, or even in a place of mutual trust. Yes, the connection with skin-colour is easily made, but to me this picture is a celebration rather than a defamation. It shows well the sophistication that ØLTEN put on display with their new album “Mode”.
So much for the cover art, and on to the music. “Mode” is a very compelling argument for the sludge metal-stoner rock combination that I normally dread. What I expected was another pack of punchy, yet faceless riffage but what I got was a 45 minute-long theme song to one of those mega machine-programs on the Discovery Channel. I do understand, that’s not a very attractive prospect, but for ØLTEN it seems to work out very well.
RELEASE DATE: 06 April 2015 LABEL: Hummus Records
The album is consumed with delicate ease, which is not very obvious given the nature of the music itself. It reminds me of a scene describing a big, prize-winning bull and a little boy leading it by a rope fastened to its nose ring. I believe it to be a scene from Gustave Flaubert, but it is a common literary theme in the end. I can easily study while listening to this album, I might even sleep to this album, yet I can definitely I rock out to it as well. Even though I will not succumb to the metaphors of skull-crushing and bone-snapping that are so commonly used in assessing this genre of music, the opening to “Ogna” is still a hell of a smasher that makes me trot through my room and shake my fists with sheer theatrical aggression.
A note must be made on the musicianship of the ØLTEN-men. Even though it has been a bit of a slow burn, I must say that “Mode” shows no lack of musical talent. Even though the drums for example are not exactly baffling in the sense of what’s being played, they do come along with some sort of certainty; a kind of self-esteem that reflects in every hit of the toms and with every crash on the cymbals. The playing is just utterly compelling and it makes that the music is brought to the listener in truth. Like a train. A train is there, and when it comes driving at you, you feel it; you feel the earth tremble and you piss your pants. Then there’s the sudden outburst of vocals on “Gloom”, which is the album’s definite pinnacle. Guest vocalist Tomas Liljedahl flounders his way through the throes of a woman dying in the fields. “Release me to the fields, give me the last wings” he screams, delicately rendering the struggle involved within the deep caverns of his throat. “Gloom” is a masterpiece of the sludge-genre; it is long, powerfully poetic, and its majesty is unparalleled by any of its contemporaries.
What a terrific ride this album is! “Mode” shows ØLTEN to be an imaginative ensemble capable of sophistication. With its docile nature, the album grants an easy-listening experience, without loosing touch with the fan’s attention.
The world of “Mode” is far richer than can possibly be conveyed in terms of violence and anger, which makes this album genre-transcending when it comes to its philosophy and the imagery used.