May 21, 2018 Midnattsol – The Aftermath (Album Review)
Midnattsol are back and bigger than ever, now fronted by the awe-inspiring vocal team of Carmen Elise Espenæs and sister Liv Kristine Espenæs (Leaves’ Eyes, Theatre of Tragedy), authoring an entirely new book of stories on The Aftermath, which arrives May 25, 2018, through Napalm Records.
Translated from Norwegian, “Midnattssol” means “Midnight Sun,” though the band have placed their own little spin on the spelling. Formed in 2002 by Norwegian siren Espenæs and German Guitarist Christian Hector, the Nordic Symphonic/Folk Metal outfit have released three full-length collections to date, 2005’s Where Twilight Dwells, 2008’s Nordlys, and 2011’s The Metamorphosis Melody. Throughout the duration of the band, there have been plenty of line-up shake-ups – including the 2008 departure of Founding Member Hector – some awards, and even a second musical project for Espenæs, the Metal trio Savn.
With seven years elapsed since The Metamorphosis Melody, Midnattsol – Founding Member and Vocalist Espenæs, Guitarists Alex Kautz and Stephan Adolph, and Keyboardist Daniel Fischer – are now poised to return, and surprise, there’s a new addition to the group – Vocalist Liv Kristine Espenæs. Thanks to this vocal expansion, the band’s epic storytelling and gorgeous harmonies are more stunning than ever on their fourth full-length offering, the 10-song The Aftermath.
The Aftermath begins with a building of sonic intensity that culminates in the tale of “The Purple Sky,” where an over six-minute long, poetic message in a bottle serves as a lovely metaphor; a relationship strained due to the inability of one individual to acknowledge the needs of the other. Flawlessly, this moves into the siren’s call of “Syns Sang,” five-minutes that allow the sisters to soar into the heavens alongside a stunningly complementary guitar score. Influenced by the mythological tales surrounding the Norse goddess Syn, there is a call for judgement here that could lean toward social-commentary and feminist ideology, if you so wish to interpret the song as such. Either way, the alluring Syn is also the inspiration for the album’s cover art.
The stunning folksong “Vem kan segla” sonically evokes thoughts of faeries floating through a haunting mist, while lyrically this is a traditional Swedish folksong. Like a mother bestowing the best of dreams upon her children, Midnattsol weave their own luscious interpretation of the words into a truly lovely track that is a stand-out on The Aftermath. Similarly, sweetness and light, vocally speaking, balance against ominous sonics in “Ikje glem meg” (“Never Forget Me”), a poignant ode to those who lost their lives in the July 2011 terrorist attack on the island of Utøya. A horrible tragedy that shocked both Norway and the world, Midnattsol have taken heart to draft a gorgeous ode to those who gave their lives that day and shall never be forgotten. “For fred me kjempe” (“For peace, I fight”) is the truly haunting oxymoron that weighs heavily here and forever more.
Traditional Swedish ballad “Herr Mannelig,” the tale of a mountain troll who tries to convince a man to marry her, is woven into a nine-minute long epic that serves to highlight the stellar guitar work of Kautz and Adolph, along with the lady’s dueling, exquisite harmonies, weaving a spell that will have you wanting to learn Swedish immediately, or, perhaps instead, marry a troll.
Rocker “The Aftermath” takes an environmentally conscious yet somberly poetic look at the destruction of our earth, while the introspective “The Unveiled Truth” acknowledges that we must rise above envy and lies to embrace our destinies and be our greatest selves. Meanwhile, nearly seven-minute long instrumental offering, “Evaluation of Time,” presents epic, dueling guitars that anchor the core of the track for the oft jackhammering drums, taking the band on a journey through the sands inside the slowly depleting hourglass.
Acoustic guitars provide the backbone for the gentle sweep of “Forsaken,” an exploration of what it would be like to be the last person standing after we have destroyed our beautiful planet. In closing, the bonus track “Eitrdropar” returns to the group’s Norse mythological roots, toying with the idea that, if the origin of all things (“Eitr”) is also poisonous and produced by serpents, what does this suggest about the hidden meanings in our life’s struggles. These thoughts segue into parallels to life and death, and rebirth, suggesting that we must suffer first before we can learn how to truly live.
Ultimately, The Aftermath is a gorgeous collection of Nordic Folk Metal that incorporates traditional folktales, ballads and mythology (and trolls!), alongside fully modern-day concerns such as environmental destruction, authoring a collection of songs that display exceptional virtuosity of musicianship. The end result is a fairytale that sounds fiercely poetic in its delivery, but hyper aware in its knowledge of the world around us and our modern struggles. Few bands could pull off this delicious dichotomy of ye olde and the new, the whisper soft wings of faerie and the sucker-punch of reality, but Midnattsol do it all with a practiced and intelligent ease that is beautiful to the ears. For these reasons, CrypticRock are going to learn Swedish and Norwegian, and also give The Aftermath 4 of 5 stars.