Nearly a decade on from their precocious debut Från En Plats Du Ej Kan Se debut, Beardfish are boldly defying the unwritten law that modern Swedish prog must retain its spiritual link with the symphonic blueprints of the 70s. While many of their contemporaries are skilfully but somewhat redundantly repeating themselves, Rikard Sjöblom and his gifted henchmen continue to revel in the limitless possibilities of their own sound, and just as 2010’s Mammoth made it plain that Sjöblom’s adolescent metal fixation was finally seeping into his adult work, so The Void makes it abundantly clear that this band are embracing their inner heavy and discovering the clear benefits of spreading out even further towards those dynamic extremes.
The kaleidoscopic carnival of 2009’s Destined Solitaire now seems a world or two away. A metaphysical concept piece that strikes a sublime balance between seriousness and mischief, The Void begins with a wry spoken intro from The Tangent’s Andy Tillison, before erupting into a dark and ominous squall of mid-paced metallic riffing with bona fide opener Voluntary Slavery.
Beardfish sound utterly at home with this more intense, physical approach to their music, and their leader’s knack for subtly complex and compelling melodies is evident throughout. The Void’s first 12 minutes represent a thoroughly convincing symbiosis of King Crimson dissonance and Black Sabbath plod, the unsettling Turn To Gravel even drifting momentarily into the scabrous, brutish menace of Van der Graaf Generator’s live album Vital.
This is still a symphonic prog album at heart, however. They Whisper is light on metal references, hiding its hazy shadows within a labyrinthine arrangement wherein Beardfish dance nimbly around each other’s performances, conjuring a tornado of interwoven grooves, rippling Hammond and atmospheric edge. Meanwhile, This Matter Of Mine centres around a propulsive, spiralling guitar figure that mutates into a precise, staccato metal riff and back again, Magnus Östgren’s skittering drums driving everything briskly forward, before a dramatic drop in tempo sends the band into more languid, melancholy territory.
The Void reaches its compositional apotheosis on Note, an audacious 16-minute epic that would creak under the weight of all the ideas crammed into it if the men playing it were not so consistently in tune with their music and each other.
Both the heaviest album that Beardfish have made to date and the most wildly imaginative, The Void is a fascinating reaffirmation that this giddily versatile band are one of the very finest that modern progressive rock has to offer.