If your music is subtle, so the people love you can be too – or why a Wardruna addict doesn’t like Kvitravn

photo: Arne Beck

I’m an absolute Wardruna megafan. I thought I loved, them, then I saw them live shortly after Yggdrasil came out, and realised my journey deep into fanboy territory was yet to reach a middle. There is something utterly magical about Einar Selvik’s music, to the extent even that bloody kids’ choir couldn’t ruin Ragnarok.

But I don’t like the new album Kvitravn. And at first, I couldn’t work out why, because on paper, it picks up exactly where Ragnarok‘s finest moments left off. Then I worked out why. And good grief, am I disappointed that such small changes have so completely cut me off emotionally from it.

Strap in, this one’s going to get nerdy.

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You survived 2020 and all you got was this Spotify playlist

This may have been the Worst Year EverTM, but holy mince pies, Batman, was there some great music.

To try and help cheer you up (and to drown out the bloody awful festive music you must be sick of by now), I’ve assembled what I think is the finest 52 songs (one for each week of this 129 month-long year) I heard in 2020. There’s a convenient Spotify playlist with them all in at the end too. (And yes, of course it includes Unreqvited.)

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Below The Light #7 – Nerdier Than A Really Nerdy Thing

It’s the final Below The Light of 2020, but rather than scraping the barrel at this point, I’m mourning the stuff I had to leave out to fit this stuff in. So don’t worry that it’s too late to include these in your top 20, just wait a few months from when you realise something in this blog should have been in there, then lie and say it was all along.

This one has a largely grim mood to it, even finding a fairly morose power(ish) metal record, but ends in the most cheery black metal record of the year. And takes in something so nerdy, I think my glasses duplicate themselves and get stronger every time I listen to it.

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Below The Light #6 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Metal

In the penultimate round-up of stuff that seemed to fly under the radar in 2020, we’ve got the usual multinational selection you can use to help avoid the sickly feast of Christmas schmaltz you’re probably drowning with. So whether you want something grim, something heavy, something catchy, or something apocalyptically violent, there’s probably something you can use to drown out Mariah.

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Heavy metal needs it’s one-offs. Which is why it needs the real Dimmu Borgir back

Dimmu Borgir’s last album, 2018’s Eonian, their first new music in eight years, was great. But it wasn’t really a Dimmu Borgir record. And while heavy metal is full of bands who ride very close to the band that inspired them the most, it has in truth always been most clearly defined and sustained by those bands who can’t be mimicked accurately.

Which is why it really needs the “proper” Dimmu back and doing what made them them.

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Below The Light #5 – 2020 black metal special

2020 has been a cracking year for black metal, to the extent that lower profile gems aren’t just common enough to be littered throughout all the Below The Light columns so far – they are enough to form an entire column. So this is it.

Here’s a whistlestop tour of under-the-radar black metal from all across the globe, and in the entirely predictable wide range of interpretations – and that ends in a record whose geographic inspiration is very appropriate for an item called “The Googly“…

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What you get out of an album isn’t just about how good it is – it’s also about your relationship with the band’s back catalogue

There’s a Melvyn Bragg line that Mark Kermode has brought up in his film reviews: that how you react to something is affected in part on where you are in your life when you encounter it. And obviously, that’s true in music too.

But it in music, it’s even more complicated than that. What you feel about a particular album can be hugely dependent on the relationship you have with what the artist has done before – even in cases where you already liked them, and where you think the album is good – not necessarily how good the album itself is. Naturally, the best way to demonstrate this is with examples, so I’ve dug some out from 2020: Code Orange’s Underneath, Oceans Of Slumber’s self-titled album, Anaal Nathrakh’s Endarkenment, and Unreqvited’s Empathica.

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Below The Light #4 – Enter The Drakum

Below The Light is back with a collection of stuff wot you might ‘ave gone done missed guv, innit. This one is, frankly, all over the shop, even by the standards of the first three of these.

We have something grim and Dutch, two somethings from southern Europe that sound far more northerly, something French and absurdly technical, something Swedish and brutal, and something Swedish and so camp the physical copy should come with a cravat (and the digital download come with a Kenneth Williams gif).

And then some stuff that’s just plain weird – but might be the best of the lot…

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Below The Light #3 – A night at the Operus

If there’s one thing I love, it’s spicy hummus. That’s not relevant to this column, but I’m going to need it for an overstretched analogy in a minute, so I thought I’d make it clear.

But another thing I love is shouting about albums I think are great that I don’t see enough love for, so I’m back with another selection of underappreciated gems from 2020. And this one is, even by the standards set so far, a fun one. Except for the first pick. That’s about as cheerful an Alan Bennett monologue on dropping your hummus on the kitchen floor, slipping in it, falling, breaking your glasses, and viewing that as a metaphor for your life. Or something…

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