Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nåstrond - Toteslaut (1995)

Nåstrond is one of the many lesser-known Black Metal bands from Sweden. Forming in 1993, they released two demo tapes while more established groups like Dissection and Marduk were making a name for themselves. It was not until 1995 that the band's debut album, Toteslaut, would be unleashed upon the underground. Unfortunately, this is a record that is still rather obscure when compared to the likes of Storm of the Light's Bane or Far Away From the Sun. There is no clear-cut reason why Nåstrond did not make more of an impact with this record, as it contained enough elements that were typical of the Scandinavian Black Metal style to appeal to most fans, while also possessing something that was very unique.

My first exposure to this band came from a mix tape sent to me from a penpal in Finland, back in the late 90s. While the song, "Lord of the Woods", certainly met with a positive response, I failed to seek this album out. I was re-introduced to Nåstrond when living in Sweden, some years ago, and could hardly believe that this album passed under my radar for so long. While far from being the most amazing thing to hail from the frozen north, it did not deserve to go unnoticed or forgotten.

Musically, Toteslaut would seem to follow the general patterns of most Swedish and Norwegian bands of the period. One can hear bits of Bathory and Celtic Frost in the songwriting, and the material consists of a good number of pummeling drum beats and fast tremolo melodies. However, to write this off as being generic would be a disservice. Though the style is fairly standard, the actual riffs possess an eerie and sorrowful atmosphere that is unlike anything else that was released around this time. The additional synth passages do well to accentuate this feeling, while not overpowering the guitar riffs. In most cases, the keyboards are more subtle than in a lot of other bands. The vocals are rather typical, not straying from the sound utilized by bands like Marduk and Gorgoroth. Draugr's voice is very hateful, at times, and suits the music well.

The production is the one main weak point. The drums are far too high in the mix, which gives a feeling of being too polished and fake. Actually, the percussion is reminiscent of that found on the first Algaion album, and one has to wonder if a drum machine was used. The vocals are at an appropriate level, though the clean voices should have been buried a little more. The guitar tone is cold and icy, at times, but they lack any sense of rawness and seem a little too clean. It is not as if this sounds like some mainstream release, by any means, but the material would have benefited from a slightly more primitive sound.

The lyrics deal with topics relating to death, moreso than Satanic / anti-Christian themes. However, it is not done in the manner that one would find on a Death Metal release. The sort of approach that Nåstrond takes as it relates to death is more occult and ritualistic. "May the Rotten Bones Absorb Life Again" is a good example of this, with the creepy riffs complimented by the topic of necromancy.

Despite its flaws, Toteslaut is certainly worth listening to. It is pitiable that Nåstrond's debut effort fell through the cracks and was passed over in favour of so many inferior releases. While using a similar approach as that of many of their contemporaries, this band really captured a completely different type of darkness with the sombre riffs that make up this album. Seek it out and give it a chance.