Review: Pågå ‘The Evil Year’

Yeah yeah yeah, I know, you’re looking at the name of this album and thinking ‘GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE WITH THAT JINX TITLE’ but..well..I presume that Pelle and Gotfried Åhman had settled on the title before 2020 went south. On the other hand, if there was ever an album as nerve wrecking and gently terrifying as this year has been, there’s a strong argument that this is it.

Pågå 'The Evil Year'

This is not – and let’s be extremely clear about this – In Solitude part 2. While the Åhman brothers have been involved in numerous musical projects over the years, that band’s absolutely masterful Sister album had elevated their creativity, within the rock/metal form, to a lofty height with very few peers. When the band ended not long after that release, it was devastating to many. No doubt hearing of the duo’s musical re-emergence will perhaps engender a hope for a return to Sister’s dark beauty for their devotees. The release of the first Pågå single Enter suggested as much, with maybe more of a 60s/70s tinge, than the goth influenced damnation of yore.

However, this is a strange and frightening new world and any thread back to In Solitude is so thin as to be almost invisible.

In the opening Stellar Vermin alone, this is made wildly clear. Ten minutes of pure dread that begins as a tense sustained drone, brings in xylophone and pitch warped vocals, before taking an abrupt turn into a sort of dark conga driven psychedelic passage. This has more in common with the likes of latter day Scott Walker, or some weird lost prog record. It’s the sound of the Manson family, on a creepy crawl through darkened hills, with murder on their mind. It is, I suspect, closer to the sound in the brothers’ heads than anything either has ever done before. It’s also a seriously fucked way to start an album that gets progressively more fucked as it continues.

Here’s the thing with The Evil Year: even at its most traditional points – the short and sweet acoustic pop of Water Strider or the Beatles inspired classiness of Storm, something just feels… unsettling. Not quite right. These should be moments of light in the dark, but there’s an undercurrent at work that feels like neurosis, or psychosis, being wrestled with via melody. Neither side entirely wins the fight, and the music is the end result. Though as surreal as it is sinister, there’s a sense of calm anchoring it all. It’s mesmerising.

Though as surreal as it is sinister, there’s a sense of calm anchoring it all. It’s mesmerising…

The mid section of The Evil Year seems like music ripped directly from an episode of sleep paralysis. Meshes In The Wild and Wet Star lean in to elements of dark ambient, field recording and Lynchian texture to achieve an aural space that feels like being lost in a labyrinth. Olili is the logical end to this aspect, a repetitive slow motion dirge that sounds like the opening procession of some strange night time ritual. The evocative powers, harnessed by the brothers when they explore this more free form approach, are far more engaging than they have any right to be.

The Evil Year is, at heart, an entirely nocturnal album. It has a feel which is occult, in the ‘hidden’ sense of that word, rather than any witchy/satanic sense, music for the shadow self, or for moments of hypnagogia. Given that it was made by two brothers, it’s also intriguing to think that this is a musical manifestation of their own fraternal language. It’s very much an introverted, and introspective, record, which I suspect is perhaps rife with hidden personal significances and references that only its creators will understand.

For the rest of us, this is no bad thing however, as those personal touches and obsessions materialise in the form of some genuinely compelling music. Combining the most atmospheric elements of Dionysian rock, acid folk and the free thinking creativity of Italian horror/thriller soundtracks, filtering them through the crepuscular experimentation of the era of England’s Hidden Reverse, this is a black gem of a record for those willing to embark on the descent before them. Not for the faint hearted.

Label: Svart Records
Band Links: Bandcamp

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes