Always a little outside the normal boundaries of Swedish black metal, Grá return with their fourth opus, Lycaon and it’s another change in direction from their 2018 record Väsen which incorporated masses of keyboards, orchestral and choral elements, and acoustic parts. By contrast, Lycaon sees Grá veer very much in the other direction, and as frontman Heljarmadr notes, it’s designed to be different. “It has fewer layers and with that, every layer needs to be meticulously measured and well thought out to carry the right atmosphere forward”.
Lycaon retains the rawness that Heljarmadr and band mates are so renowned. Dark Funeral vocalist for almost a decade, he is dedicated to the cause and produces a stellar performance on Lycaon, with his croaking delivery instantly recognisable. He’s joined by new guitarist Niklas Ekwall, alongside existing members drummer Dimman, bassist Vediger and fellow guitarist Maugrim.
It’s an imposing piece of work. Huge swathes of darkness sweep through the eight tracks over the 35 minutes. Snarling vocals, shimmering riffing, and pounding drums cascade and echo, with some majestic and imperious flashes. The opener “White City Devil” veers away from the expected traditional black metal style, edging towards the kind of black ‘n’ Roll style before the second half switches into more sinister and imposing fare. It’s obvious that Grá will not be pigeon-holed and whilst the band keep their roots firmly in the black metal camp, the more upbeat and dare I say, traditional metal flavours make this more accessible than many might expect.
“Flames of Hephaestus” brings a more expected approach, but still works the grey matter hard. Heljarmadr’s trademark roars dominate without overpowering whilst the punishing riffage flows with a relentless drive that demands you stop what you are doing and bang your head. It’s evil, dark, and foreboding. “Torn Asunder” is fierce, featuring deep, swirling, rhythmic patterns, intricate fretwork, and more ferocious vocals.
“Chariots of Fire” increases the heat. It’s explosive, a frenetic burst under three minutes in length and the most aggressive track on the album. It’s flanked by the title track, and “Ett Avskedsbrev”, two of the three songs not sung in English. “Ett Avskedsbrev” is a slower, brooding piece in comparison to the preceding song, but it still carries plenty of potency. The third song sung in Swedish is “Brännmärkt”, a sprawling work that carries with it some of the most harrowing sections of the entire album. Lycaon concludes with an off the wall instrumental, which is predominantly percussion and drumming. Yet “Jaw of the underworld”, with its deep horns and unnerving echoes provides the finish you’d expect on such a unique and crafted piece of work. It fits well.
Lycaon is the first album not mixed or mastered by Heljarmadr, with mixing by Terry Nikas and mastering by George Nerantzis in Greece. It features impressive cover art by Chilean artist Felipe Ignacio. It’s a stellar piece of work from one of the most respected bands in the black metal scene today.
Lycaon is out on January 13th