The last several years have seen the rise of a new generation of Swedish heavy rock. Spearheaded by varied acts like Witchcraft, Graveyard, Asteroid, Blowback and Truckfighters, the long-standing tradition of quality Swedish riffing (as heard in the wave prior from the likes of Lowrider, Demon Cleaner, Dozer’s early work and The Quill), has become more self-contained, so that Swedish bands no longer have to look solely to those outside their country for influence. Enter the young Norrköping foursome Skraeckoedlan, who make their debut on Transubstans with the 10-track Äppelträdet (“apple tree”). The band, whose name translates in English to “horror lizard” – and the cover of the album bears that out – pull more from their countrymen stylistically than anywhere else, most notably from Truckfighters, whose signature fuzz, pulsing bass and bouncing energy is all over these tracks. They come by it honestly enough, however, as Truckfighters bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm recorded and produced Äppelträdet, making it easier to read their absorption of those elements as intentional and conscious rather than due to a lack of originality. Skraeckoedlan also bring some of their own flavor, adding deeper tonal heft to songs like opener “Världarnas fall” and the vocal interplay between rhythm guitarist Robert Lamu and bassist Tim Ångström pushing into more individualized material.
Still, when Henrik Grüttner’s leads cut through the formidable riffage surrounding, they do so with fuzz strikingly reminiscent of Truckfighters’ own Niklas “Dango” Källgren, and that’s likely to be the first place anyone who’s heard the Örebro desert cruisers is likely to go for comparison when it comes to Äppelträdet. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, and as Skraeckoedlan pepper in Mastodonic call and response growls for the chorus of second track “Soluppgång,” the personality diversifies somewhat, however familiar the low end sway of the groove might otherwise be. The shorter instrumental “Chronos” shows more melodic interplay between Grüttner and Lamu on guitar and showcases drummer Martin Larsson’s formidable pulse – another element of Skraeckoedlan’s sound greatly aided by Cedermalm’s production; the crash cymbal sounds like it’s a mile wide – leading directly and smoothly into the title cut, where Ångström’s rumble adds metallic distortion to underscore the groove. “Äppelträdet” has what might be the album’s catchiest chorus and best lead work from Grüttner, as the solos seem to build one after the other in intensity until finally the track can’t hold any more and it bursts back into the chorus. Like most of the album, the song is fluid, accessible and easy to follow despite any language barrier that might exist, and the vibrancy is only heightened as Skraeckoedlan move into “Haven,” which seems to run headfirst through its first half into a break that, were it coming from an American pop-punk band, would be the stuff of teenage anthems. The fuzz pervades, and as the intricate riff they started with returns, it’s all the more appreciable just how much potential Äppelträdet shows.
The second half of the album offers few departures from the first, but satisfies perhaps even more, with echoing vocals topping the insistent riff and Larsson’s driving bass drum on “Doedaroedlan,” adding just a touch of psychedelia to the already well-established space/monster themes. Cedermalm’s influence shows up again in the melody of the chorus and the quiet break where the guitars seem to be resetting themselves for launch once more, but Skraeckoedlan do well in the form, and the song winds up being one of the strongest and most atmospheric on Äppelträdet. Their toying with pace continues with the upbeat English chorus of “Universe,” which, derivative though it might be, flat-out rules. The song takes a turn with the two guitars offering a noodling bridge, but sticks to its strong sense of structure all the same, setting up the heavier hits of “Cactus,” which along with the following “Fågelsång,” make up the apex of the album. “Cactus” thuds immediately, Larsson trying to push the hammer through his bass drum while double-timing it on the hi-hat as the vocals drift into space, the whole band picking it up for the chorus as ever, and driving home both the style and theme they’ve been working with all along. Split almost precisely in half, the track’s back end establishes a memorable, poppy lead line and follows it through to the end, vocals returning unexpectedly to close out.
Much as “Chronos” bled right into “Äppelträdet,” “Cactus” moves directly to “Fågelsång,” and the momentum is palpable. Again, Ångström’s bass anchors the song, but everything feels punchier here, setting up anticipation for the payoff that arrives following a lengthy solo section and chorus revival in the last 30 seconds. It’s the apex of Äppelträdet for sure, and Skraeckoedlan imbue it with proper ceremony, returning to the central riff of the song, but Larsson adding an adrenaline-raising solid beat behind that makes closer “Rokh” more or less an afterthought, even though it’s one of the band’s most effective blends of their neo-metallic (not nu-metallic) and heavy rock influences, culminating in a riff worthy of the Leviathan that spawned it. They try ably, but “Fågelsång” is overwhelming and “Rokh” would need some kind of interlude preceding if it really wanted to stand up to it. Skraeckoedlan end strong all the same, and the more I listen to Äppelträdet, the less I’m concerned about Truckfighters comparisons than I am with imagining how this four-piece can work to distinguish themselves in the future, the various avenues they can go to from here. As a debut album (they released two demos prior), Äppelträdet impresses in terms of the songwriting and use of structure, the hooks, the riffs and the usual aspects that would stand out in well-made stoner rock, but their working with Cedermalm and adaptation to his now-signature style shows a modernity of influence that could either make or break Skraeckoedlan as they embark on their own development. It should be interesting to see how it plays out, but Äppelträdet’s strengths play well into its familiar aspects and the record more than earns a recommendation for fans of next-gen fuzz.
Tags: Norrköping, Skraeckoedlan, Sweden, Transubstans