Sarcator
Alkahest

Remember being 17 or 18 years old and thinking you knew everything? And yet, in the same breath, somehow you often found yourself not knowing what the fuck you were doing at all? Equal parts cock-sure confidence and complete naivete. The truth, for most of us, is that when you’re that age, you’re still just trying to figure it all out, man. Who are you, really? What do you want in life? What are your hopes and dreams, my guy? It’s an exciting, awkward, utterly fascinating time to be alive.

Two years ago, Swedish Wunderkinds Sarcator, led by 15 year old singer and lead guitarist Mateo Tervonen (son of The Crown guitarist Mikko Tervonen), released their first full-length, self-titled record. It was, for a band featuring no members over the age of 21 at the time, a pretty fucking killer record! There was, without question, quite a bit of noticeable influence from ol’ daddy-O in a lot of Meteo’s riffs and song structures. No one was going to accuse it of being the most original record ever, but the sheer energy and exuberance more than made up for the lack or originality or experience. It was a super fun dose of blackened thrash that would have been impressive for a group of musicians of any age and level of experience, but for a group of kids barely old enough to hold a babysitting gig? Pretty mind-blowing.

But now the kids have grown a couple years, and they’ve reached that point where they’ve decided to start forging their own paths, finding their own unique voices, and generally dealing in the kind of experimentation you’d expect from a group of awkward teens… OK, no, not THAT kind of experimentation. Get your head right, you fucking weirdo…

As I mentioned, their previous work certainly followed a very similar Blackened Thrash path to that of The Crown, Nifelheim and others of a similar ilk – and that hasn’t exactly gone away completely, per se – but in that spirit of experimentation has come a very pronounced progressive feel to Alkahest. Where most of the self-titled debut stayed mostly in that 3-4 minute wheelhouse, the track lengths have ballooned significantly this time around, with all but the opening track ranging from between 5 minutes, all the way up to 10. You get the sense that the band is caught somewhere between just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, and a genuine desire to put all their talents out there for the world to see, and it predictably makes for some mixed results.

The album starts off a little more how you would have expected, with “Ascend” hitting you straight out the gate with a 3-minute burner that could easily have come off their self-titled debut, save for the much tighter performance put on display this time around. Where their debut featured some of the kinds of imperfections that make earlier Crown albums somehow more endearing and pure, the boys here sound much more crisp and precise. Still, the riffs and blasting drums are blistering, leaving no mistake that these young men are still willing to open the taps and let ‘er rip. It’s on second track “Perdition’s Hand” where you start getting the sense that things are a little different this time around, hitting with a much tamer, perhaps even a touch friendlier-sounding riff and tone that, depending on who you ask, could be interpreted as a band maturing, or maybe looking to appeal to a wider audience. Whichever way you lean, the track is undeniably catchy, able to get your toe tapping, if not necessarily make your neck particularly sore – though when Mateo barks “FIRE!” at around the 4-minute mark, a not-so-subtle nod to uncle Johan Lindstand (The Crown), don’t think for a second it didn’t get my blood pumping a little harder and have me grinning with giddy delight. The more-restrained general vibe continues with third track “Grave Maggot Future,” though replacing the outright energy and fury you may have initially expected from Sarcator, is some really great harmonized guitar work between Tervonen and fellow guitarist Emil Eriksson that most certainly shows the band’s growth.

From here on out is where the band really starts to branch things out and get weird with it. Tonally speaking, “Dreameater” sees the band really trying to cultivate a more unsettling, sinister vibe by slowing things down and taking a bit of a darker approach to the song writing, almost adding a bit of a grungy feel at times that sounds like maybe the band had been on a bit of a Kim Thayil/Soundgarden kick which, if I’m honest, really hits a bit out of left field – especially when followed with a full-on galloping metallic riff and solo. Honestly, if the song had ended there, I might have been more fine with this – but instead it goes on for another 2-3 minutes of more of that kind strange grunge/thrash interplay that doesn’t necessarily add anything to the song. It feels a bit like the song is 7+ minutes long purely for the sake of being 7+ minutes long. The strangeness continues with “The Long Lost,” with the beginning of the sound starting with some acoustic guitars and castanets, giving it a sort of spooky… Tex Mex feel? What follows is another plodding riff that sounds a little bit more Seattle than Sweden. There’s a bit of back-and-forth between the distorted riffs and Western acoustics, which is kind of interesting if not, once again, very unexpected and somewhat jarring, but overall the song would have been fine had it ended after the neat build and solo around 5 minutes in, but then it just sorta… keeps going, with more of the aforementioned acoustics – for another minute and a half or so. I get it guys, you’re trying some new things, and that’s great! Totally down for it. But I also got that point way earlier. Let’s move it along.

I dunno if these dudes were in the middle of a Spaghetti Western marathon or something while writing Alkahest, but we get some more of those vaguely Mexican acoustics on “He Who Comes from the Dark,” which is, to be fair, one of the album’s best tracks. There’s a real nice balance between some of the more high-octane riffing we were expecting from Sarcator, and some of this newfound exploration – and despite it being one of the album’s longest tracks, it has a natural, consistent flow that keeps it from feeling as long as it’s 8 minutes and 14 seconds suggests. Does is need to be that long though? Ehhhhhhhh no. Probably not. The one track, weirdly, that I will excuse the length, is instrumental “Sorrow’s Verse.” THIS is where the band has put their need to noodle around a bit to good use, laying down some genuinely inspired leads, riffs and melodies that feel unencumbered by the need to stick to song structure or format, and thus flow much more freely than the progressions feel on other tracks. In a big way, I wish the band had reserved this track alone to stretch their muscles out, and stuck a little closer to the status quo on the rest of the album.

This is a weird album to try and judge because, speaking from a purely technical standpoint, there’s a lot of really good things these young musicians are putting together. The problem is, there’s just A LOT of it to get through. And at the end of the day, I get it. This is a young group of dudes who are literally still trying to find themselves in the world, figure out who they are not just as musicians, but as, you know, people. In that regard, I wholly appreciate the band’s need to out literally ALL of their ideas out on the table and see what happens. I applaud it, even. What I do hope is that, as the band progresses and continues to mature, that they’ll learn the subtle art of restraint, and be able to focus more on the best elements they create. The future of this band is still bright as ever, even if right now it’s a bit muddled.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
November 3rd, 2022

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