When thinking about ‘Rock’n’Roll’, it is likely that someone might imagine their father talking about back when bands made ‘real music’, classic rock songs played on the radio, or cringe-worthy karaoke renditions of Journey witnessed at a bar. Over the decades, rock music has distanced itself from its blues-y origins and branched into innumerable genres and subgenres where the original moniker no longer provides an accurate portrayal of the music. At its best, rock is a blanket term. In most situations, however, describing music as ‘Rock’ has more or less come to mean ‘not Hip-Hop or Country music’. The wanton abandon and loosely-controlled sonic chaos of electric-blues music as well as the label created to describe the style in its infancy are relics of the past which have lost relevance and meaning long ago. What does ‘Rock’n’Roll’ even mean anymore? On their most recent release, Norwegian outfit Årabrot imbibes the essence of rock throughout an eclectic assortment of tracks.
Over the course of their two decade tenure, the band has reinvented themselves countless times, changing lineups and genres filtered through a sound which can not easily be categorized, but instantly recognizable as Årabrot. The only constants in the band seem to be primary songwriter, Kjetil Nernes, and change. The early releases from Årabrot see the group explore a metallic and noisy sludge punk in the vein of The Melvins. 2016’s Gospel marks a transitory period as it is the first full length record following Nernes’ bout with cancer. That record and those following feature his wife, Karin Park, more fully as a collaborator.
Of Darkness and Light is the 10th record from Årabrot. Opener “Hangman’s House” primes the listener for the fluid approach to genre within the LP as it seamlessly morphs from dark folk to muscular sludge. The following tracks offer a menagerie of styles as Årabrot exhibits their wide range of influences. There’s quirky off-kilter Noise Pop reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age with the dancy “You Cast Long Shadows” and anthemic “We Want Blood” while “Horrors of the Past” and “Madness” explore more industrial and New-Wave sounds. “Cathedral Light” and “Fire!” manage to marry Goth Rock with Stoner Rock riffs to great effect. “Swan Killer” is an odd ballad which is equal parts Mr. Bungle and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, treading the line between kitsch and confidence. Closing track, “Love Under Will” is a culmination of the musical malleability found in Of Darkness and Light, and a solid end to a whirlwind of an album.
Årabrot is a band which requires multiple listens and time to reflect and digest, so it’s fitting that the title for their most recent album would directly reference a work in literature as heady as “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. However, Of Darkness and Light is a diverse and surprisingly listenable record in which old fans and new listeners alike can appreciate. This record was my introduction to the band, but I can safely say that it will not be my last foray!
Here you can find their video for “We Want Blood”: