Some things are exactly what they seem
Here’s a genre worth pondering: “True Norwegian Art Rock.” Let that one sink in for a little. It’s an undebatably strange one, and yet it is the genre of choice chosen by iTunes for Who Do You Love, the latest album by… True Norwegian Art Rockers, Årabrot. While that genre term may not call to mind any sound in particular, outside of perhaps other art-rock sounds, once the album begins you’d be hard pressed to find something that more accurately fits that definition.
Digging into the album, listeners will find it’s actually far more enjoyable and straightforward than its peculiar description would lead them to believe. Instead of being extremely esoteric, unapproachable guitar noodling, it’s relatively accessible guitar-driven rock, almost punk-like in its delivery and vocal style. It bears multiple similarities with contemporary Scandinavian punk rock outfit Iceage, though Årabrot is certainly a good deal stranger than they are. The opening track “Maldoror’s Love” feels like a proto-metal song at times; the vocals flip between raspy growls and shouts, to an almost pop-punk whine at times, and the guitars remain fairly simple throughout the track. Its follow up track, “The Dome,” is a clear standout on the album. It begins with a semi-spoken intro laid over a deliberate, plodding guitar before breaking into a truly mad punk center. The vocals of the track fly all over the place, adding an unhinged layer to the straightforward guitars. An excellent trio of opening tracks is rounded out by the phenomenal “Warning.” It’s easily the most powerful track on the first half of the album and is possessed by a maddening intensity that stems from its early punk-style repetition, making for a perfect headbanging track.
At some point though we had to come across some of the more “art” side of “art rock.” In a lot of cases, the art side is what brings an album depth, yet, when it comes to Årabrot, it often comes as somewhat of a hindrance. What was initially a grinding album filled with headbanging anthems comes to a full stop with tracks like “Pygmalion” and “Sinnerman.” While the smoother, slower songs could be interpreted by some as a reprieve from the intensity, it feels much more like the obligatory heartfelt scene in an R-rated comedy. It does, on some level seem to serve purpose as a mellow, grounding force, but in general, it lingers far too long in opposition to the rest of the record. It would have been nice to have these tracks on a separate EP where they don’t impede the flow quite as much.
No one may ever truly understand what the folks over at iTunes were thinking when they decided that “True Norwegian Art Rock” was a genre so distinct it needed to be classified, but if they were going to give that title to any band they certainly chose the right one. Who Do You Love does so much right. In fact, everything it does it does well. However, the gap between the two styles it executes are in such great juxtaposition from each other, and so segmented in the flow of the album that it interrupts itself with its own greatness. And while that may be a shame, Årabrot still manages to make a record where each song is worth listening to, even if the full package leaves something to be desired.