With the release of their first three albums in five years –2011’s Shoot! , 2013’s All Of Them Witches and 2014’s Enfant Terrible — The Hedvig Mollestad Trio have managed to receive praise and attention internationally from both jazz and rock critics across the blogosphere and major media outlets, including Rolling Stone‘s senior editor David Fricke and veteran writer Richard Williams among others for a sound that meshes elements acid jazz, free jazz, jazz fusion, but heavy metal, psych rock, stoner rock and prog rock in a way that to my ears reminds me quite a bit of Ecstatic Vision, Hawkwind, Rush, and others. And as a result, the band has placed themselves on a growing list of Norwegian avant jazz ‘n’ rock/free metal/free jazz acts that have received attention across their homeland, Scandinavia and elsewhere that includes Elephant9, Grand General, Bushman’s Revenge, Krokofant and Scorch, the renowned act led by Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, who have been long considered as the forefront of the movement.
The trio comprised of Hedvig Mollestad (guitar), Ellen Brekken (bass) and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad (drums) just released their latest effort Black Stabat Mater yesterday and reportedly, the material on the album is heavily indebted to the newfound confidence and self-assuredness the members of the band found during an intense touring schedule; but also revealing a band that has expanded upon the sound that initially won them international attention. In fact, Black Stabat Mater‘s four compositions still manage to possess the improvised feel of jazz fusion and free jazz but while arguably being the most prog rock/stoner rock/heavy metal leaning material they’ve released to date, essentially crafting an album that effortlessly blurs the lines of jazz, metal, stoner rock and prog rock — and in a way that nods to the jazz fusion experiments of the 70s while being remarkably contemporary.
Considered the effort’s first two tracks “Approaching: On Arrival” is an expansive, twisting and turning composition that begins with Bjørnstad’s jazz-like syncopation, Brekken’s sinuous yet propulsive bass lines and Mollestad’s bluesy guitar chords during the composition’s lengthy introduction before quickly morphing into a stoner rock and prog rock stomp, complete with some serious guitar pyrotechnics. At the 7:15 mark the composition becomes a wildly free-flowing and kaleidoscopic array of feedback, thundering drumming, blistering guitar playing reminiscent of John Coltrane‘s late, experimental work — and in a similar fashion, the composition possesses a mind and conscious-altering quality. “In The Court Of The Trolls” is composition comprised of alternating sludgy, prog rock/stoner rock and trippy psychedelic, acid jazz sections and while much like the preceding track feels completely loose and improvised, also reveals a band that’s incredibly tight; in fact, there’s the sense that one musician puts an idea down and the rest will follow, knowing exactly where and when to take it. Track 4 “-40 is a gorgeous and contemplative composition featuring gently swirling and undulating feedback with a gorgeous guitar solo while album closing track “Somebody Else Should Be On That Bus” begins with a heavy, Charles Mingus-styled bass introduction before turning into a sludgy, power chord-heavy composition that sounds as though it were inspired by Queens of the Stone Age and others.
So far, 2016 has bee a mixed year for me as far as album-length releases but I may have stumbled across one of my favorite releases this year, as the Norwegian trio specialize in an uncompromising and exciting genre meshing and genre defying sound. But I think that the album should also reveal that Hedvig Mollestad is arguably one of the best guitarists that everyone should know right now.