Sweden may’ve made up for our boor-in-chief’s latest asinine grasp at legitimacy with a little chaos Monday night, but as long as I’ve been aware (think I started with Bergman in 2007 and moved on from there), its chief feature has been one of dreadful stillness. Even an example of the country’s more successful commercial fare, Stig Larsson’s gruelling Millennium Trilogy, stops well short of being franchise-worthy here. Humanity, it steeply can’t be denied, is a murderous, cannibalistic engine. Universal health care and relative stability can’t save any one of us from the instinctive dread we feel. And one is foolish at best to play around with levels of denial as virtue. In this light, it’s impossible not to feel raw panic at the stultifying pablum that passes for wokeness in the upper echelons of financially bolstered selective blindness (and consternation at the countless weary souls angling for/dreaming of the same). America’s ignorance and crassness gets a lot of aesthetic hype around the world, but up close, it feels like galling nihilism and smells of piss and shit and rot. This creates an absurd longing in some of us for brave, unsparingly stoic communion with darkness. Something Scandinavian.
Fittingly, audio/visual artist Marcus Fjellström makes music with a lovely, accommodating sort of clammyness, punctuating sniffles without the cold, bad dreams with inspiring endings, bitter regret without the fidgety wincing. Skelektikon is a little less pop in the dead AM radio field (à la Leyland Kirby) and more clear and steely. It still doesn’t scream in your face with brute force, but where 2010’s Schattenspieler is the flickering flash of a spooky visage, this new album works like the slow-burn scare. You slap yourself and rub your eyes, but the apparition is still standing there motionless, blankly regarding. There is still the genre fan’s sense of stylistic distance (from the title to the Brothers Grimm-styled album art), but its tickling textures prove cumulatively unnerving as the album progresses.
In retrospect, one can point to the nagging hitch that someone in his position as filmmaker/composer must contend with: that of one discipline inadvertently hinging on the other. His Odboy & Erordog and “Lichtspiel Mutations” videos so compellingly synergize his talents that it’s hard not to revel in the visual possibilities of such intricately evocative suites. The pieces contain stated melodies and (mostly flatly metronomic) rhythm, but always come off episodic, threatening Skelektikon’s cohesion as a standalone work. If David Lynch suddenly decidedly he wanted to go back to the unkempt, shadowlands environment of his early stop-motion works, I could think of no greater collaborator than Fjellström. I’m sure Lynch is likely tired of being a sort of goth footnote, and one’s not supposed to look back, but his reported flightiness during the production process suggests there’s a fair chance this new Twin Peaks could be an embarrassment. For once, it’d be nice to see a master revitalize rather than try’n revamp.
All that digressing is only to say that, while there are many comparable dark electronic music producers out there, this album shows one who’s ready for something beyond a hearty bleak-ass headswim (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Which leads me yet again to lament the state of horror cinema. Our 2016 film of the year, The Witch, would pair well with this album. But discerning horror fans deserve more than just one great horror film every 20 years. The palpable heebie-jeebies one feels when listening to these 10 tracks is paired with uncanny yet unabashedly traditional, thematic promise. To hell with Lynch. Someone smarter and hungrier (maybe Fjellström himself) needs to pick up this resplendent offering and save horror from fully rendering itself a rote, stabled bit of lazy reference. Fear needs to hit escapists where it hurts again. Although I suppose it meta-should, the recent documentary Beware the Slenderman can’t be the genre’s final resting place. All due sympathy to the parents and their psychologically and physically afflicted progeny, but my big takeaway was that kids today are imaginationally bankrupt. Skelektikon sounds both like a new frontier and a revitalization of the old one. It’s time. It’s been time. Here’s another striking, slinking reminder.