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My first reaction upon finding out Wolverine’s follow-up to 2016’s incredible album, ‘Machina Viva’, was to be digital only was disappointment. A disappointment exacerbated by the fact that it wasn’t to be downloadable as mp3, wavs, or whatever. Just what are these Swedes playing at? Clever things, I tell you. After I fully engaged with their new release, ‘A Darkened Sun’, which is a 28 minute film, split across four chapters that are, effectively, four songs, combined into one intriguing narrative (a very darkly melancholic and, at times, unsettling narrative), it suddenly hit me. Wolverine are geniuses, and I’m not merely talking about the consistently transcendent music they make (or the film… I’ll come to that shortly).

They’re playing it very clever here. For an ADHD generation who are content at engaging with quick hits of “art”, by skipping through endless TV channels; clips on YouTube and the like; random mp3s on their smart phones, etc… Wolverine have released their new stuff in a format that makes you engage with it at your own leisure… online, but with music and visuals as one, which is how they were conceived and intended to be digested. By making this the only way by which you can experience ‘A Darkened Sun’, it’s taking back a degree of control over how they know people will have to interact with their work, should they wish to do so. Obviously, volition is still key… no one’s forcing anyone to experience anything here, and the potential for polysemy still reigns in undoubtedly disparate experiences and interpretations people may have with the images and sounds. But it's a majestic work that needs to be digested from start to finish, and it's been presented in a manner which allows such. And those who choose to engage with 'A Darkened Sun' will be rewarded with not only more incredible music from this ever reliable band, but also an accompanying film that matches visuals (strikingly and hauntingly beautiful visuals) with music in an overall narrative that puts it right up there with the very best music vids/films ever made. And I do not say that lightly.

I’ll refrain from giving away spoilers, but we’re talking about fairly bleak territory here. The visuals of the film, together with some astutely synchronous editing, not only match screen to sound to perfection, but also breathtakingly align the rhythm of the montage to the beats of the music and narrative/lyrical cues. The amount of work that’s evidently gone into this thing, and I know it was a crazy amount of work, is simply astounding. It shows. The band’s very own bassist (and now, I guess, also auteur!), Thomas Jansson, was responsible for writing, directing, filming and producing. And the man has an incredible talent for it all. Artistically, it’s where Ingmar Bergman meets David Lynch, with an overriding atmosphere of Scandi-Noir (albeit not a “crime drama” appropriation of that term… Wolverine haven’t remade ‘The Bridge’ here… I meant solely from an aesthetic standpoint). I could throw out other filmic references, with echoes of early Polanski and the like, detectable within my own viewing experience, but I’m probably way off the mark and wouldn’t want to take away from the creative autonomy of this finely crafted work. I'll just say, though, that the Swedes seems to have a knack for crafting filmic melancholia to perfection. As a recent example, anyone who's seen Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja's incredible 'Aniara' will know precisely what I mean.

Musically, it’s also perfection, once again, from these Swedes, with a production courtesy of the band themselves; recorded by drummer Marcus Losbjer (also responsible for the flawlessly balanced mix) and keys man Per Henriksson. Performances all carry the usual affective weight for which the band have become renowned, across the entire spectrum of emotions, from melancholy and despair, to anger and resentment, to enlightenment and emancipation. Music and narrative don’t get any better synthesised than they are here, including the band’s performance of such in each of the four chapters, with Stefan Zell’s vocals adding enough drama, but without ever succumbing to histrionic crassness. This is refined, atmospheric, music-based filmmaking at its very best. On a par with Alan Parker’s ‘Pink Floyd – The Wall’… I don’t think I can bestow it with any higher praise than that. Considering music films of this sort are effectively where diegetic and non-diegetic elements of film meet head-on, with nowhere to hide (it’s not merely a Zimmer-esque score bunged on to heighten suspense or tension already implied within the visuals), it’s a fine art to synthesise the two. And this has been achieved with virtuosic auteurship. And the whole venture further cements Wolverine’s already established reputation as one of the most genuinely progressive bands out there... beyond just the music now, it would seem.
Review by Mark Holmes
31st October 2020
1) Chapter 1 - Phoenix Slain
2) Chapter 2 - The Breach
3) Chapter 3 - Dead as the Moon
4) Chapter 4 - Hibernator
"...the whole venture further cements Wolverine’s already established reputation as one of the most genuinely progressive bands out there... beyond just the music now, it would seem."