Company: Pulverised Records Release: 2009 Genre: Death Reviewer: Etiam
A thoroughly satisfactory ride
Some metal groups can disguise their country of origin, either by forging a unique identity (difficult) or aping another country's trademark style (ubiquitous). Some others head in the opposite direction, embracing their country's tradition and leaving no question as to where their allegiances lie. Hailing from Sweden, The Few Against Many is in the latter camp, and are so loyal that, if stabbed, they would probably bleed yellow and blue and then treat the wound with a lingonberry salve.
'Sot' is one of the purest forms of homage to Swedish death metal since Bloodbath's 'Resurrection Through Carnage' LP. There are differences, to be sure, most notably that Bloodbath was celebrating their country's early 90s scene, whereas The Few Against Many focuses instead on the 00s. There is also the whole matter of Mikael Åkerfeldt, Dan Swanö, and the two founding members of Katatonia being individually each more famous than all the members of The Few... put together. And finally, 'Resurrection...' turned out to be one of the best death metal albums of the decade, which 'Sot' is decidedly not. However, to be even modestly comparable to Bloodbath's pedigree is a high compliment, and if any Swedes can be the next generation of Åkerfeldts and Swanös, The Few's Christian Älvestam and Jani Stefanovic might be among them.
It's a little odd to see their sometime-companion Pär Johansson listed here as nothing more than a backing vocalist, but whatever keeps the mojo flowing for Christian and company.... Besides, The Few Against Many's lineup is just another experiment in inbreeding: every member plays with at least one other member in at least one other project--sometimes more. So what is it that sets The Few Against Many apart from Miseration, Solution .45, Torchbearer, and the rest? Well, it seems as though this project is (at least for now) the collection point for all the seriously heavy, mildly crusty, occasionally awesome, frequently groovy, and always ultra-Swedish song ideas that have been kicking around in their heads recently. These ideas used to be parsed out between Solar Dawn, Incapacity, and who knows what other side projects never saw the light of the Encyclopaedia Metallum. The Few Against Many also fuses some of the creative forces of previously unrelated groups like Unmoored and Satariel that have been inactive for some time. Whatever the case, all the history between members means that 'Sot' is tighter and more bludgeoning than any debut release (not even a demo preceded this LP) has a right to be. And, by the by, it completes our Swedish death metal checklist by boasting Dan Seagrave cover art.
The band name could have been (a lot) better, but it does accurately characterize their position in today's death metal scene--a coalition of somewhat well-known musicians facing off against a vast horde of bands playing music largely comparable to theirs. In the established framework of Swedish death metal there is little room left for innovation, and The Few wisely don't cast too many threads out at once. Aside from the inherent quality of its ingredients--read: stellar performances--'Sot' really only has two features that separate it from most other bands in this style.
The first is singing in Swedish, which is something that too few (non-Finnish) bands do. The lilt of the Swedish language is perfectly matched to the country's signature bouncy riffing, and Älvestam does a fine job of mixing up his pacing to keep the vocals sounding fresh and vicious. He barely changes pitch from a steady roar, though, so anyone looking for Scar Symmetry or Unmoored-style melodies will be disappointed. Only two songs have English lyrics here, and they were reportedly contributed by Jonas Renkse of Katatonia and Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity.
The other interesting thread is The Few's use of keyboards. Now, keyboards in Swedish death metal are nothing new--the majority of the aforementioned groups have used them, sometimes heavily--but not many artists take the same approach to arranging as does Älvestam. His composing is largely based on orchestra and vocal hits, either staccato or in speedily ascending lines that punctuate at tonic. Combined with Stefanovic's sometimes blistering percussion (nearly as talented a drummer as he is a guitarist), the effect can be exhilarating. Not entirely original, The Few tip their hand a few times: copping synth patches and lead phrases from Dan Swanö's 'Moontower', as well as some general atmospheres that would be right at home in either 'Crimson' album. However, hardly any Swede into keyboards and metal could escape Swanö's influence, and 'Sot' is otherwise fresh in its phrasing.
Altogether, 'Sot' is not the next 'Resurrection...', and is probably less thrilling than the new Torchbearer album that's in the mixing stage, or the devastation laid down on Miseration's newest. However, 'Sot' it is still a thoroughly satisfactory ride, front to back, and that's nothing to take for granted in this single-dominated age.
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