Skogen's 2009 debut Vittra might not have proven the most memorable of records that year from a new artist, but the Swedes were quite adept at creating a slow, somber atmosphere which was far from ineffective. The duo's focus is largely on moody, melodic black metal which might be compared to a mix of their countryman Vintersorg (early albums) and the famed Finns Moonsorrow, but I can also discern traits from bands like Borknagar, Enslaved and Yearning dispersed throughout their material. More importantly, though, Skogen are intent to never quite repeat themselves in such way that the listener feels any redundancy. They are constantly muddling about with varied rhythms, vocal styles and instruments that the considerable, 62+ minutes of content continues to draw in the listener throughout, rather than repel his/her affectations.
As such, I found Svitjod a more compelling and absorbing experience than Vittra, and even if there are a few periods where the material sags in quality and inspiration, the lion's share of the sophomore album provides a wealth of escape into the band's lyrical vistas of natural gloom and untouched landscapes. "Dighra Dodh" creates an immediate sense of texture and warmth, but remains on edge due to the spans of ominous keyboards that are accompanied only by the beat and gnarled, oaken rasp of the vocals. Here they also implement some of their clean vocals, which certainly remind me of Vintersorg's style, soaring over the shining spikes of tremolo riffing and machine-like double-bass drumming precision. "Midnattens Glimrande Stillhet" applies a bit of thunder to the percussion that evokes a lush contrast to the glittering, emotional melodies at the crest of its sobering waves of misty miasma. The 11+ minute "Vinterriket" even avoids the wearing out of its welcome, as it cycles through periods of acoustic grace and crushing, longing black/doom melodies...
To further prove their knack for variation, Skogen are even capable of creating a standalone acoustic interlude ("Vansinnets Hemvist") which aesthetically reeks of a tranquil river rush; or more impressively, a 7+ minute piano composition in "Daudaferd" which is nothing if not dimly lit and strangely soothing. All of the vocals are handled well, whether they be the snarls or growls or cleans, and the production of the album is pitch and picture perfect to the cover art. I mentioned earlier that there were some points at which the album dips a bit in its ability to entertain, but this is only a handful of riffs throughout the playlist that follow a familiar drift, and I can't say that a single song goes by without at least something brooding or eloquent to muster up the attention span. Svitjod might not be a masterpiece, but if the debut wasn't effective in marking the duo's ground on the folk/black map, then this surely should. Easily recommended to fans of October Falls, Yggdrasil, Wodensthrone, Borknagar, Moonsorrow or old Opeth.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]