8/8/2008 - Review by: Etiam
One of this decade's unsung trends has been the success of the underground supergroup. Rather than the often bloated affairs of 80's prog-rock and the modern cash-cows of fading stars, it has been groups like Sahg that have helped reestablish the 'supergroup' as an exciting and welcome facet in the rock 'n' roll world. But coming from disparate quarters of rock and metal, the Sahg experiment was by no means guaranteed to work; members hail from rock (Audrey Horne), death metal/crossover (Manngard), and black and everything else-metal (bassist King). Even so, Sahg's debut 'I' was a surprising success that focused the many energies of the band's members into a vigorous and unified front.
Now, Sahg return with 'II', which they promised to be more dynamic, more ambitious, more vintage--more everything. This is a typical claim that is often an outright lie or a euphemism for jumping the shark, musically speaking, but in this case Sahg were in the right. Whereas 'I' had a rather narrow predilection for stomping doom rock, 'II' explores other permutations of the Sabbath musical tree. From Deep Purple rockers to 60's psychedelic jams to Candlemass-esque instrumental interludes, 'II' is a widely cast net, and even when Sahg do not entirely succeed, their willingness to take risks for the sake of musical and self-development is appealing.
The most prominent change for 'II' is the increased influence of psychedelia, where the rhythm section settles into a trance-like vamp, the tambourines begin to shimmer, and the lead guitar spirals up into the aether. (See the latter sections of 'Echoes Ring Forever' and 'Star-Crossed'.) Thankfully, Sahg's extemporanea are generally more balanced than those of the original generation, and only the closer 'Monomania' plays like a seriously--seriously--stoned-out safari. Most other tracks are buoyed by a persistent Scandinavian sensibility that keeps (almost) every song's head afloat in the sea of jamming reverb excess. Other tracks include some fun alternation between speakers, and along the way every guitar takes its turn in the lead position. A little more balance, though--which is to say a little more bass--would have done well in this setting, but otherwise the production is robust and balanced. Iversen and company consistently roll out compelling riffs and use atmosphere and pedal effects (vocal and instrumental) to commendable effect.
Nevertheless, for as well as the band has diversified its approach, the songwriting of 'II' ultimately lags behind 'I', which was unanimously strong and memorable. Also, Iversen's vocal cadences begin to repeat themselves here and his command of the upper range doesn't seem as sharp this time around. However, 'II' is only lessened in comparison to 'I', and is still an entertaining and well-realized album overall, as Sahg continues to do proper, if no longer superlative, homage to a bygone era.
PS - It's a wonder that Sahg has released 'II' on Regain Records, given the legal spat between King's other band (Gorgoroth) and Regain, who sided with Infernus in the recent Gorgoroth split. One can only wonder what their relations are like behind the scenes, but for now we can be thankful that they're cooperative enough to keep Sahg's business out of it.
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