What is Thall? The meaning behind Måsstaden

Vildhjarta - Måsstaden [Full-length]
November 28, 2011 - Century Media Records
10
10

Medieval. If I were allowed to choose only one word to describe Måsstaden, the upcoming full-length release by Vildhjarta, then it would be this. The utter darkness and despair that this album manages to conjure up, along with moments of shimmering beauty and a sense of timelessness, is truly magical. The direct yet hugely challenging guitar work, hauntingly dissonant and wielding terrifying power, is layered thickly yet somehow gives the illusion of having spades of room in which to work. The ambiences are stunning, and the perfectly distorted vocal duo of Daniel Ädel and Vilhelm Bladin give huge weight and direction. The storytelling, through both words and music, to me is on a level with the writing of Shakespeare, Tolkien and the Greek mythological storytellers, whose works clearly influence it greatly. As a musical journey, it is comparable in style and magnitude to a symphony that Mahler, Sibelius or Shostakovich may have written. So how do they do it? Why? And what does the album actually represent?

Well, according to guitarist Daniel Bergström, Måsstaden is “a concept record that tells the tale of a hidden and isolated town, narrated in a classic fable manner… the story revolves around a protagonist and his counterpart the antagonist.” So what is a fable? Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as “a story in narrative form, told in order to highlight human follies and weaknesses. A moral is often woven into the storyline and explicitly formulated at the end.” Interesting: this would imply that Måsstaden’s concept has some moral purpose. Another of their guitarists, Calle Thomer, has said the underlying motive is to convey “the negative impact of globalisation”. What is globalisation? Collins Dictionary says: “the process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications.” In the eyes of some, it is a haven of choice and opportunity to be fully capitalised upon; others see it as a hugely biased method of exploiting a countries people and resources without actually giving anything back. Globalisation is a relatively new political concept, so despite its long-lost, barbaric feel, Måsstaden draws much of its message and inspiration from the present day.

The opening track, ‘Shadow’, begins with a heavily delayed and reverberating guitar tone, which appears to echo heavily off the surrounding buildings of the “Seagull City” (for that is the literal translation of Måsstaden), bringing to mind a very heavy sleep and intense isolation: barren landscapes of the dark ages, such as a solitary monastery settlement inhabited by the devout, the deformed and the dying spring to mind. Then, suddenly, the main guitar line springs forth from the musical horizon, travelling with great freshness and intensity; this is clearly representing the arrival of a newcomer, a possible challenge to authority. Gradually the texture and intensity thickens: he is approaching. Then, at 1:16, the vocals come in for the first time. The first words: “glow, absent sun”, seem to be tackling the point of view of the antagonist, or the ‘Deranger’ (as I shall continue to call him): they scream in triumph, “behold, I have found the hidden kingdom!” The scene is set.


Religion, and the stance it has in this strange society, is a theme present throughout the album, with numerous references to the Bible and Christ. One of the most common throughout is the theme of apocalypse: the repeated preaching of the phrase “No one can save you now” hints at impending doom, found in the book of Revelation: is the Deranger the destructive tune of the seven trumpets, thus making him the bearer of Måsstaden’s downfall? Or is he an angel, who supposedly sounded the trumpets; a messenger of god who must protect and guide human beings? Further evidence to the former may be gauged from the song Benblåst: the line “aiming to cause downfall when you cross our stream” suggests, in my mind, the Greek legend of crossing the river Styx to enter the Underworld; yet this message also refers to the Deranger. Is he then a microcosm of the death of a dead city? Is he even Death himself, roaming the land and preying on the weak? It certainly seems so, and during ‘Eternal Golden Monk’ this concept is taken to further extremes: “Rage like a fire to turn all things black. Become one with the void.” Dark imagery: to me, this epitomises Hell; an all-consuming evil rears its head, ready to strike. The townsfolk foresee their destruction by the Deranger, and beg for him to leave. This plea is uttered earlier, through the music, in ‘Dagger’: when the main riff enters, it is like an eagle soaring down upon unsuspecting prey: such is the magnitude of the albums production that, when the low notes fall, you physically shudder as their gravity crushes your insignificant mind. The powerful ambience in the background to me represents the response of the town to the disturbance: they are frightened and confused at the arrival of this demonic character, and are as warning sirens to him, willing his departure.

Impending doom is a central theme in ‘Benblåst’. Put simply, this track is Death, silently moving through darkened streets, leaving a trail of decay and despair in his wake. The percussive opening section seems highly hallucinogenic and nightmarish, as though you are swaying in and out of conciousness under the influence of some deadly toxin. The repetitive dissonance in the guitar and the double bass rhythms really conjure up an image of fate inevitably knocking at your door: this is dark stuff, and they know it! The Deranger leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, conveyed in brutal manner by the bone-crushing riffery and hellish abuse of melody by the impossible guitar lines, a kind of which I have heard nothing like before. After two minutes, he really goes in for the kill, soaring on the horrifically majestic clashes of thunder demonstrated by the music’s texture, similar to the magnitude created by Mahler or Wagner at the peak of their operatic powers. Blood curdling screams ring out through the remnants of the music, and the ridiculously low notes impale you like a forklift truck at top speed.

‘Eternal Golden Monk’ is the opposite, a fanfare of the ‘protagonists’, Måsstaden’s inhabitants - yet this songs content is an extremely twisted version of faith. At 0:43 we abruptly drift into a spacey clean section, possibly to show signs of tenderness and possible doubt in their condemning of the ‘Deranger’: the verse goes on to mutter “Doubtfullness is for the weak; such kind is the lone deranger”. Interesting. Did they not themselves just express doubt? Do they thus refer to themselves as Lone Derangers along with the ‘Deranger’ himself? It is possible – the isolation of the city gives rise to this illusion. “I am always awake and ready to bring you down” adds to Måsstaden’s shadowy demeanour, and a further moral dilemma is presented: “when you reach perfection, you know decline is on its way to bring you down”. Is this saying that the city has experienced its “perfection” and has been brought down into a darker period? This would suggest a longing for days gone by and that the ‘Deranger’ has brought their land into decline. Or, then, does it say that perfection is unattainable because if Måsstaden were perfect it would be an infinite experience, such as Heaven? Does this itself suggest that Heaven and the afterlife are also non-existent? We then drift into an otherworldly, narcotic nightmare of a riff, with disturbing demonic ambiences: they are monophonic, perhaps invertedly sacred, and suggest at what is to come (again with reference to Revelation).

The story within this album is far from clear-cut: reality is very unclear throughout, giving a listener a lot of creative space in which to conjure up his own sequence of events, something all good concept albums, such as Uneven Structure’s Februus and Meshuggah’s Catch Thirtythree, create within the plot. However, I feel that one of the central concepts is perpetual impurity and the presence of evil within all things. The point I made about ‘Eternal Golden Monk’ expresses this well, and there are others too: the dark and beautiful ‘Östpeppar’ is instrumental, yet exudes feeling. The hiss in the background evokes thoughts of a stream running through untouched countryside, and the muffled sound and unclear direction gives it a strange serialistic quality to the chord progression, although it clearly revolves around simple harmony. The guitar line has a very lyrical quality, despite the odd intervals and patterns used, creating the conflicting ideas of disturbance and clarity overlapping and merging, again suggestive of the lurking evil which lies in us all, however hard we might try to conceal it.

This idea operates conversely too; in the next track, ‘Traces’, the Deranger speaks in desperate and longing tones. The vocals in this track give the words absolute meaning: not a fraction of doubt is left in the listeners mind as to the Deranger’s inner workings. The tortured broken chords, abrasive and deep frequencies, and all-consuming melodies, wailing like a mother pining for her lost child, convey utter loneliness and despair. “Silence is the noise I hear, from the world that speaks my name” demonstrates his wish to be accepted back into his homeland, however daunting a place it may be. Indeed, he expresses a wish to save them from a “most vicious storm to come”. He is clearly frustrated that his knowledge is disregarded: “Continue with your ignorance and bring this silence with you to the end” shows us that he truly believes the apocalypse is nigh. Throughout the album, the Deranger is portrayed as an exploited and mentally unstable exception from the norm: his absurd visions and ignorance of the laws and rules, and indeed of physics itself, evoke thoughts of the ‘Mad Monk’ Rasputin or even a twisted portrayal of Christ himself, possibly suggesting what Christ could have been and what feelings you might encounter in a position such as his. The clean vocals throughout the midst of the song suggest, and put heavy emphasis on, the Deranger seen from this perspective (for these are the only clean vocals of the entire record). It is interesting to note the comparison in delivery between their vocal styles and the heroes of Shakespeare: both use a huge volume and drive in vocal direction when delivering their lines, and it has an enormous effect on ones interpretation of the story.

Another example of the torn personality of the Deranger appears in ‘Shadow’: the second verse, to me, is an interesting twist on the role of Aragon, the rightful king of the world of men in The Lord Of The Rings: “A massive night has condensed” may represent some form of battle, and the lines “Because I know something that you don’t. That’s why I must come back” convey a bizarre sense of loyalty felt by the ‘Deranger’, as Aragon feels to Middle Earth and Gondor despite his exile. However, soon the mayhem and insanity returns to his speech: “I will force my mark upon everyone. The traces I leave, they will speak my name” suggests huge bitterness and a lust for revenge of some kind, and even the manic thought processes of some sadistic totalitarian dictator in the vein of Hitler, again conveying the rhetoric that evil and wrongdoing is present in all of us.

The schizophrenic nature of this verbal onslaught is reminiscent of the character ‘Gollum’ from The Lord Of The Rings, possibly suggesting that some otherworldly force is responsible for the corruption of the human race. This schitzophrenia is explained by the other microcosm present throughout, that of the negative impact of globalisation. The comparison between world government and Gollum is an interesting one: both are seduced and inexplicably altered by a lust for power, represented by the One Ring and a global influence respectively. Right from the start of the album, the Deranger shows a lust for command of the city, with phrases such as “throw your final light of hope, I’ll quench it anyway” and “they will submit to change”. Then, in ‘Dagger’, we are told “come taste this poisoned daggers blade”, and during the gap at 2:00 we hear a harsh scraping sound, as of a blade against bone or the dagger being drawn from its sheath. The dagger here is a microcosm present throughout the story, and represents power; here globalisation, as it is “poisoned”. It is a sinister reference to the Deranger’s wish to ‘poison’ the city? He states “A most devious reason resides within me”, and also seems to say that he has some form of superiority, that the town would be better off with him as ruler: “you only know the low without the high” conveys scorn at the townsfolk, and the unstoppable roar which is uttered here is persistent of the fact; this is clearly Vildhjarta’s portrayal of the world’s capitalist institutions.


‘When No One Walks With You’ is the focal point of this underlying theme: the ‘Deranger’ is again portrayed as the presence of globalisation and it’s efforts to conquer Måsstaden (the song is from the protagonists’ perspective). The words “If no one will walk with me, then I walk alone”, repeated throughout, seem to symbolize lone states which refuse to accept the all-consuming reach of globalisation (of which Måsstaden is a clear microcosm); countries which do not conform to the capitalistic ideal, such as Cuba or North Korea. The next verse is a direct challenge to the supposed benefits of globalisation: “You have been misguided by distorted views... choking on your thoughts without requesting the facts. If you follow given plans, then you will be the fool. When fed by a profiting hand, there will always be a price…seen in the right light, it becomes so evident.” This clearly condemns the so-called “democracies” that the west believe have done so much good, expressing the cold reality behind the work of multi-nationals and the illegal arms trade between the west and corrupt dictatorships; things are rarely what they seem in world politics. This condemnation is a contradiction of my naming the antagonist ‘the Deranger’, because Måsstaden is evidently a ‘Lone Deranger’ itself, reiterating the point I made about there being many interpretations of the album. This point is reinforced by the clear reference to the sounding of the seven trumpets of the apocalypse (referring to the threat of globalisation) “as the horns begin to howl, I recognise the deafening tones. They speak of a grief that is to come; telling me to prepare my escape.”

‘Phobon Nika’ is a fairly short song, yet I believe it is one of the most important on the album. The gradual rising of sound in this track feels like the limbo between two great metaphysical journeys, such as life and death. In the vein of much music of the romantic era, the sound builds up, then falls away again just before the climax should come. This creates the effect of slowly arising from your bleary subconscious to discover that you are in a woodland observing little-known wildlife, or perhaps atop a lonely mountain staring up at the stars. The simple pair of broken chords at the beginning seems to show the simplicity of nature or of life itself, and the muddied drums and sparkling ambience gives a real air of calm and timelessness: if fact, it is as though we have entered a dreamworld, an image of what the world should be like. The main riff suddenly enters: we feel like we are soaring though a miracle, and are totally in awe of the realm we now find ourselves in. In short, this song represents what the world should be like. The use of clean guitar tone in the album also conveys feelings to this effect; the opening of ‘Dagger’ is a lyrical guitar line which clearly draws heavily on western classical and folk music, originating from Latin cultures such as those of Spain or Italy: indeed, the sound created is reminiscent of a lute or lyre, as the chord progressions are conveyed via moving melody lines of arpeggiated and scalic patterns, like those present in the music of Bach. The effect of using these old techniques and the suggestion of Greek or Romanic instrumentation is like an ancient relic or place, fragile and immaculate; yet it leaves those who have dared observe stained with guilt, clearly reflective of the Derangers presence in this forbidden realm.

The stay is short-lived, however: Måsstadens Nationalsång is the ugly twin of this track, brutal and uncaring in its delivery. To be honest, this song is a heavily ironic stab at national pride: the anti-globalisation vibe here is very strong. The harsh, deformed melodies say:”look at what you have done to this planet. How can we feel pride in our nation if all you do is allow the parasitical influence of the corporations to swarm all over it, sucking the blood from us and our livelihoods!”

‘All These Feelings’ is a premonition of the “fight of life” between the two Derangers: Måsstaden has decided that “someone must silence your voice”, no matter what the cost. The repetition of the phrase “This is a matter of life and death!” conveys the sincerity of the threat they (and we, in the real world) and facing. In fact, to me it seems that this song is a rallying cry, a plea to the population of the earth to confront the force of globalisation and eradicate its evils. This message is similar to that dealt with by Shostakovich in his 7th “Leningrad” Symphony: based on the tragic two year siege of St Petersburg in World War II, it depicts "the ominous force of war", which is in essence a war against all evil, be it the Nazi occupation, the totalitarian rule of Stalin, or our own personal evils. The verse at 3:12, for example, calls upon us, as human beings, to take responsibility for bringing this evil to justice: “See the signs of this emergence and raise the awareness. It’s time to be resistant… so many reasons why you should be extinct… I will fight this fight for one last night.” They fear the spread of this plague, that it will infect their people: “I am more afraid of the ones that obey than of the disease itself.” Action must be taken. Battle is declared. The inhabitants are restless and frightened, uncertain of what will become of their city; yet some speak of victory, and inspire with tales of the past. This is the feeling I get in this track from 5:40: the reminiscence in the ambiences and clean guitar, coupled with the strident guitar melody gives a real sense of hope. From then on, through ‘Nojja’, both sides are gearing up for a fight that neither can afford to lose: intensity is high, coupled with a strong sense of love and affection.


Then we enter ‘Deceit’, the scene of battle: there is no going back now. The circular patterns within the opening riff, with slight alterations here and there, make it seem as thought the two characters are circling one another, looking for a weakness at which to strike. Nerves and fear are gripping the protagonist: “My veins are expanding and contracting, pulsating in a rapid pace…acting brave, I hold my breath.” However, a divine providence, some otherwordly power, takes hold: “And just as I lift my hand I’m struck by reflections, sprung from the blade. Cutting through the darkened clouds, a piercing light arrive.” The presence of the dagger again, but this time in the hands of the protagonist, shows a shift in power from the Deranger. Revelation has come, but the apocalypse is postponed. The following section from 1:28 is ethereal and strange, suggestive of the slowing down of time itself; some incomprehensible force is palpable, and has changed the course of history; “I remain in the shadow” conveys their awe at it. Then, “dawn breaks” upon the Deranger, and he is shown in the light of truth for what he really is: “a bringer of falseness and decay”. The tortured screams of pain in the guitar line say it all: he is powerless, and Måsstaden knows it. The section from 3:05 to me conveys the final struggle, with the intense, sweeping guitar lines and decisive final cry of “It will drag you down to the bottom, and then down into the abyss!” sealing the Derangers fate. The gradual shrinking of the texture and overall volume shows him backing away, stunned, from his defeater. It is over.

‘The Lone Deranger’ is the final chapter of this story; it sings in the voice of the Deranger, and the opening clean guitar is one of the few areas of pure melody in the album, and demonstrates the bands versatility to the full. The sorrowful yet majestic guitar melody and exact ambiences, whose sounds symbolise the return of nature and wildlife to Måsstaden as in Beethoven’s 6th symphony, show that the order of the world and peace amongst beings has been restored; the land is in rejuvenation. The Deranger himself lives in repent and is truly ashamed, which shines through in the lyrics: “let these words answer for what I have done, may your judgment not be too heavy upon me”. He has accepted his fate, and speaks in harrowing tones of his wrongdoings. His schizophrenic nature is again apparent from the chorus, as he tells himself: “Grasp your fear with both your hands…write your worries in the sand…and I will turn my back on you”. However, he knows he must leave this land in peace and speak no more of it, for he cries: “There are some things better left unsaid to those that have never seen this place!” From 4:45, the relief and fatigue of Måsstaden is palpable: the majestic low opens coupled with the huge ambiences show the Deranger drawing slowly away from their town. Their victory is confirmed at the end by the repetition, from 6:56, of the main theme from ‘Eternal Golden Monk’; the true anthem of Måsstaden. And thus our story ends.

So, after all that, can we say that Måsstaden has lived up to it’s original intentions? Yes, we can. The storyline conveys numerous moral concepts and is told in truly remarkable fashion. The artwork for each track (contained in the physical albums) gives rise to even further themes and ideas, and there is much overlap: the imagery is very dark, and there are a lot of symbols which recurr throughout, notably the presence of animals. This is no surprise: after all, most fables feature animals that behave and speak as human beings. The presence of Nordic longboats and the dark lapping waves rekindle the image of the Greek myth of the river Styx, with Måsstaden as the Underworld, and another important representation is the fox, sly and cunning, being cast as the antagonist in these works. And, finally, is Måsstaden something that will change music for all who encounter it, even sceptics? The words speak for themselves on this: “I defy the curse and then define a new set of rules.” This album will be revered for decades to come.

Comments

I bought a Måsstaden t-shirt from vild's merch store.. They come in either black or white. Can someone please explain to me what that symbol means?
thank you

joedaartist@gmail.com

Masstaden is a wonderful piece of art. The technical aspect is stunning - like in nearly all Djent releases - , but drawing such a wonderful story in a whole concept LP is perfect!

I really like your interpretations and I totally agree, although I got something different. This is what makes this record so wonderful -- its complexity! I do not own Omnislash, but I have to pick it up somewhere.

What is your opinion on the bonus tracks? (i.e. 14. All For The Sake, 15. Of Others, 16. To Be Continued…) They are streamable on YouTube.

"To Be Continued..." comprises nice synths and symbolizes ongoing battle, I assume.

I thoroughly enjoyed this review, I actually now look at this album on a deeper level. At first it just seemed brutal for brutal's sake. I am glad however, that I purchased a physical copy, because although at first I found it was really disappointing, it's been growing on me soo much. Thankyou! Smile

Currently downloading. So excited.

Can I just say how grateful I am to anyone who read this and began to consider even one of the things I mentioned, I really loved writing this but I didnt really expect this type of response (it is a little tl;dr Tongue ) so I'm really glad you enjoyed reading it, I'm very flattered by your responses Smile

Wow. This is the most intricate, complex, and well thought out review I have ever had the pleasure to read. Seriously bro, you could make a profession out of this. I immediately had to throw this album on to let your words sink in.

Loved this review, mentioning how Tolkien may have influenced the album really made my day. Your views are pretty rad, really doubled me enjoyment from listening to this album.
I for one would love to read about how drugs had an influence on the album. Think about it Wink
But seriously, thanks so much for this!

i was going to write about the influence of drugs on the album and how it comes across in the music and lyrics, and then relate it to stuff like Philip K Dick and Hunter S Thmpson, but it would've taken too long Tongue

this high Tongue

How high were you when you thought of this?

I agreed every word with you while i was reading! amazing review! so passionate and meaningful!

very nice review, was almost tl;dr at the beginning with the dictionary definitions and whatnot, but when you jumped right to the analysis, you got me hooked, awesome review for an awesome album

Amazing review bro.

this is a really great review Smile love the parallelisms you make and the in-depth description

This is probably the best review ever. Really nice!

I'm totally feeling you on the "medieval" comment. Been blasting this while playing Skyrim this week... Laughing out loud

Wow, amazing review. One of the greatest i've read