Music review

REVIEW: Sahg’s New Concept Album Is Downright Ascendant

Norway’s Sahg have been melting faces since 2004, but 2013 marked a fresh new approach for the ambitious Scandinavian metalheads. After three albums, all of which sequentially numbered, the group let their imaginations run wild with a conceptual album idea, one that wouldn’t be given a number like past records. Delusions of Grandeur took the road instead of a simple Sahg IV, and while it sounds like a break of tradition, it’s actually an incredibly smart move by the band. Delusions of Grandeur is a standalone concept album with as much cosmic energy as the brightest star. Sahg’s latest metal creation delivers just as much finesse as its already ascendant concept implies.

Sahg express their innermost creativity with Delusions of Grandeur, a concept album about a protagonist and his blind obsession with his own ego (aka “delusions of grandeur”). As the character’s reality begins to fade from the delusions, he appears in an imaginary existence where he believes he is the ruler of the universe. His control comes to an end, however, when he falls from his mountaintop palace and fades into the darkness surrounding him, all while being stripped of every bit of his power. Sahg have noted Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as thematic influences, which fits extremely well with the many different moods that are fully released in Delusions of Grandeur. From the triumphant rule of “Blizzardborne” to the tragic reincarnation into the real world in “Sleeper’s Gate to the Galaxy”, the record demonstrates maniacal control, acceleration of danger and an overarching mood that illustrates a false kingdom’s downfall in picturesque and textured forms.

Throughout the album, Sahg demonstrate every single influence they can get their mitts on. In one track, “Firechild”, they’re tossing ravenous guitar solos that share tones with Mastodon’s Crack the Skye record, while the following track “Walls of Delusion” is purely brilliant sludgy doom metal, taking cues right from The Melvins or even Black Sabbath. Singers Olav Iversen and Tony Vetaas show off extremely versatile vocal styles mixing the spectral snarl of Ozzy Osbourne and the shrieking battlecry of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson across the tracklist. Iversen, along with fellow guitarist Thomas Tofthagen, demonstrate extreme versatility on the axe, with riff-heavy rhythms crashing through on slower songs like “Walls of Delusion” and revving into overdrive with the fantastically melodic grinding on “Ether.” Drummer Thomas Lønnheim doesn’t skimp on the jazzy drumming either, especially in opener “Slip Off the Edge of the Universe.” There are so many moods shown in Delusions of Grandeur and that’s what every great concept album has been able to do: show off multiple vibes. A consistent stream of mood is no way to tell the highs and lows of a story like Delusions of Grandeur, and Sahg are able to show the rise and fall of its protagonist by creating various tones throughout the album, each one to complement a critical point in the storyline.

“Sleeper’s Gate to the Galaxy” is the eleven-minute-long closer to the record, a multi-portioned departure of the protagonist back into the reality that he leaves behind, all with his own madness in tow. Mixing 2000’s prog metal like Opeth with Led Zeppelin groove and Iron Maiden-esque vocals, Sahg make one hell of a closer, one with multiple steps and sections to tell the album’s climactic final act. The acoustic intro and mid-song interlude set the stage well, breaking up the intensity and letting the listener reflect on what transpired beforehand. With a mighty burst, the album ends as it begins.

Delusions of Grandeur’s ambitiously conceptual nature may sound a recipe for pretentiousness, but Sahg keep this spacey inter-dimensional odyssey (ironically) rather down-to-earth. And that’s a good thing. The band lets tone and texture take control instead of bizarre melodic chords or superhuman rhythm patterns, creating a story that’s both fully envisioned and phenomenally presented. It does tend to lose its most striking luster around two-thirds in (“Then Wakens the Beast” is rather lackluster compared to the rest on the album), but Sahg prove their conviction to their concept and even more conviction to their songwriting. Despite that lull, Delusions of Grandeur finishes strong with a climactic epilogue. Sahg make a ton of smart moves with Delusions of Grandeur; from the tumultuous tonal shifts to the fit and resonant instrumentation, this is a concept album whose intriguing narrative is never a crutch for its songwriting of virtuosity. Delusions of Grandeur is a mix of many different ideas, but a synergy of only the best. It’s a downright out-of-this-world album.