Solefald - The Linear Scaffold
Avantgarde Music
Avant-Garde, Post-Black Metal
8 songs (39:18)
Release year: 1997
Solefald, Avantgarde Music
Reviewed by Goat

As much as I do love the (depending on your point of view and level of cynicism) hilarious/eerie antics of the pre-’97 Black Metalling crowd in Norway, it’s what happened after that watershed that is most interesting from a musical perspective. The surge towards electronic experimentation alone is a subject that could have pages written on it; this genre is, after all, still very young, and the chance to watch it shaping is fascinating. Whether it’s the playfulness of Arcturus (hopefully soon to be resurrected now that Vortex is no longer in Dimmu Borgir) or the art of Ulver, Norwegian bands have trailblazed experimental Metal – and Solefald, kicking their career off with an excellent debut in the form of The Linear Scaffold, embraced intellectualism over extremity, taking Black Metal and giving it a sharp-minded makeover. They’re arguably the most out-there of the Post-Black horde, going even beyond Dødheimsgard’s pan-dimensional demonic industrialism in the music they produce; that, for me, is enough of a reason in itself to find them and their releases fascinating, but when reading the other (lamentably few) Solefald reviews on this site as part of my usual almost ceremonial preparation routine, the one that struck me most was my elder colleague Alex’s take on In Harmonia Universali.

He said as part of his summary that what many metalheads seem to feel about these ‘intelligent’ bands is that both they and their listeners suffer from pretentiousness, to the point of accusing those who ‘don’t get it’ of primitiveness. It’s a frequent argument, frankly, and one that can be argued until doomsday. Many Metalheads seem to want nothing more from their chosen genre than speed, aggression and/or extremity in varying measures, and so they react with hostility against anything that attempts to move Metal towards realms more intellectual by sacrificing said speed, aggression and/or extremity. I doubt that the supposed opposing class of “Intelligent Metalheads” exists as an actual group more than the odd example you run into online, but if such a group did exist I would count myself in its numbers. However, it’s too unfair to dismiss the – let’s call them ‘grunts’, tongue carefully in cheek – as unintelligent or un-intellectual. If so, however, then conversely you really can’t term those who do enjoy unabashed intelligence in Metal as pretentious any more than you can those who genuinely enjoy art in general. Let’s face it, art – whether film, painting or music – has a certain amount of pretence in-built, and it’s that which makes it so enjoyable most of the time.

To take a personal example, I originally discovered underground Metal out of a desire for extremity – albums purchased were as much out of a need to have my ears shredded as they were for actual appreciation of the music. After a while, however, when the experience of listening to, say, Darkthrone became as much spiritual as physical (and this is where the ‘grunts’ will stop reading in horror at my pretentious words!) the search for Metal music that pushed the boundaries became paramount. The rules for extreme metal, be it Death, Black or Thrash, are set in stone, after all. Bands that do break these rules are rare and often shunned for being outcasts – they appeal to a small percentage of a subculture, and so are very unlikely to get commercial success. But these are the bands that matter, that are the lifesblood pulsing through the otherwise burnt-out husk of a corpse that underground Metal is! My favourite non-Metallic genre is Progressive Rock, the compositions made often as full of beauty as they are intelligence, and aside from the likes of Opeth, who have sweated blood and tears over their nearly two-decade long career to get where they are today, most of the Prog Metal bands simply copy their predecessors, especially Dream Theater, and are not ‘progressive’ except by tag.

It’s refreshing, then, to put The Linear Scaffold on and hear opening track Jernlov’s melodic trill turn rapidly into complex heaviness, the keyboard melodies plunging over the edge of an abyss as distant blasts react wonderfully with piano. Every instrument is used perfectly, from the bass strumming to the subtle variations in the drumming, even the surprisingly moshable riffs are perfectly-placed, and the combination of all these makes for a complex yet pleasant listen that flows wonderfully. Although they are original, there are similarities to the early works of other experimental bands – you can hear the post-Viking darkness of early Enslaved nestled at the core of Solefald’s sound, and the opening of Philosophical Revolt is clearly influenced by bands that paint aural pictures of Norway’s past. A progressive bombast drives the music, a certain theatricality innate but charming even to the extent of the vocals, which turn many off. The duo’s screeches have been unfavourably compared to Dani Filth in the past, but it’s unfair, as they're not that similar but do fit the mentioned theatricality and give the album a chaotic feel which works wonders with the loose nature of the music. A single song can change a great deal, taking Red View as an example: synth flourishes and howling screams open the song, switching to complex orchestral metal before a proggy instrumental section almost dances its way to your ears, the song then stopping and restarting in a much more subdued tone, drums, clean vocals and a strange twanging folk instrument providing an interlude before it returns to the heaviness of before. The dynamics throughout the album are excellent, heavy and light sections complementing each other rather than clashing – a lot of thought has clearly gone into this.

Orchestral Metal as a genre seems to be uneven, the orchestral or metal elements usually taking precedence with the other lacking complexity. Emperor are the exception, of course, but Solefald prove their deft hand with the ingredients here as well, the intelligently Progressive outlook making for excellent results, for example Tequila Sunrise’s extended piano section is wonderful and makes the track almost perfect even without a heavier foil. Even Countryside Bohemians, my pick for weakest track if I had to, has something of its own, the hushed vocal performance at first making for an enjoyably tense atmosphere before all explodes in the latter half, the harshest vocals yet giving the lyrics a melancholic air: ‘we were mystics balancing at the plunge of knowledge’. When The Moon Is On The Wave is based on a poem by Lord Byron and is slightly more straightforward than earlier tracks, moving between heaviness and lightness, blasts and acoustic strums, but it’s perfect, striking exactly the right atmospheric pose for the mystical lyrics and drawing the album to a close superbly.

I’m not sure whether this is my favourite Solefald album; I would have to sit down and spend a good deal of time with all of them before I could even begin to sort out favourites. It’s fair to say that The Linear Scaffold is a classic, however, moving towards futuristic and intellectual pastures a good year before Ulver and avoiding Gothic messiness with their individual sound. The band referred to themselves around this time as ‘red music with black edges’ and it’s difficult to explain, but makes perfect sense once you’ve listened to the album. Solefald as a duo make fuller and more complete music than many bands with greater numbers of members, music that is easy to ‘get’ but difficult to actually fathom. The melodies created on The Linear Scaffold are more than enough for even the ‘grunts’ to find it a wonderful piece of music and yes, it’s complex, deep stuff, but this is a good thing. Those who don’t enjoy The Linear Scaffold suffer not from primitiveness so much as a lack of appreciation for well-crafted artistic statements, which this is as much as it is a Metal album. Whichever way you look at it, this is a classic, and deserves far more attention from fans of leftfield Metal than it gets.

Killing Songs :
Jernlov, Philosophical Revolt, Red View, Tequila Sunrise, When The Moon Is On The Wave
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Solefald that we have reviewed:
Solefald - World Metal – Kosmopolis Sud reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Solefald - Norrøn Livskunst reviewed by Goat and quoted 91 / 100
Solefald - Neonism reviewed by Goat and quoted 93 / 100
Solefald - Black For Death: An Icelandic Odyssey Pt. II reviewed by Andrew and quoted 74 / 100
Solefald - Red for Fire: An Icelandic Odyssey Part I reviewed by Adam and quoted 82 / 100
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