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Hedvig Mollestad Trio
Enfant Terrible Joe Banks , May 30th, 2014 08:20

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen is yet another luminary of Norway's extraordinary Rune Grammofon label, and as with many of the other bands and players there, she's moved on from an initial grounding in jazz to produce a series of instrumental albums as the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, alongside bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad, pushing the boundaries of guitar-based out-rock and improvisation. Enfant Terrible is their third album, and it's the Trio's most direct, heaviest album yet. And by "heavy", I mean literally heavy, often sounding as though it's weighed down by chainmail and armour, like the determined trudge of an army returning to its homeland after long years of war (an impression reinforced by Thomassen's thousand yard stare on the stark cover portrait).

On first listen, this came as a bit of a surprise, as while their two previous albums (Shoot! and All Of Them Witches, both excellent) were certainly heavy, they had a spring in their step that's mostly missing from Enfant Terrible. Not that this is a criticism – at just six tracks and 35 minutes long, it almost feels like a series of variations on a theme, with an upping of the riff quotient and a toning down of the Trio's occasional abstruseness.  

Clearly, we're in Sabbath and Zep territory here, and I'd also cite the late 80s/early 90s keepers of the downer rock flame – in the US, bands such as Melvins and Tad; in the UK, the likes of Fudge Tunnel and Milk – as relevant precursors. And while Thomassen's playing has evidently absorbed the heavy moves of Iommi, Page, Hendrix etc, as well as the jazz rock chops of John McLaughlin and Terje Rypdal (who must surely be on Norway's national curriculum, so pervasive is his influence on the Rune Grammofon catalogue), I'd give a special shout-out for Tony Bourge, guitarist with the criminally under-appreciated Budgie, whose gutsy but exploratory style Thomassen often recalls.

'Laughing John' sets out the Trio's stall immediately, its churning main riff like hacking through thick undergrowth, while Ellen Brekken's upright bass gives a satisfyingly slippery depth to the song's groove. As it progresses, Thomassen's guitar bristles with restless, discursive shredding, straining to break free of its heavyweight foundations, and occasionally threatening to burst into Focus's 'Hocus Pocus'. The charmingly-titled 'Arigato, Bitch' slows things down even further, its sludgy, blues-rock-at-16rpm vibe in lockstep with our metaphorical army as they drag their cannons across unforgiving terrain. There's a bass-led breakdown, then eerie guitar like shafts of light coming through a forest canopy, falling with growing intensity until you realise the trees are all on fire. Cue a fantastic NWOBHM-esque passage, with, yes, clanking echoes of Budgie's 'Panzer Division Destroyed'.

'Liquid Bridges' is an aptly-named track that reins in the riffs for a few minutes, Thomassen's guitar slipping and sliding like mercury through a sequence of dream-like phrases and arpeggios, highlighting the apparently effortless rapport she has with her instrument. 'Rastapopoulos' is a seething tumult of untethered extemporisations which acts as short bridging passage into 'La Boule Noire', another song slow of riff and heavy of atmosphere. But whereas a more traditional doom band might take these ingredients and produce something that's punishing but one dimensional, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio create a sound that's dense but strangely buoyant, like floating in a sea of black ether. And there's always hints that something else is about to happen, whether it's a teasing Sabbath-like vamp that suggests things might get funky, ghostly reprises of Thomassen's guitar work on the El Doom And The Born Electric album, or even a ragged Iron Maiden impersonation at one point. The album concludes with 'Pity The Children', which moves from a lovely lyrical opening section into a menacing chug, before resolving into a melancholic minor key reverie which recalls Slint and features some of Thomassen's most emotive playing.

While jazz and improvisational tropes are clearly still important to the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Enfant Terrible sees them embracing traditional rock structures with increasing enthusiasm, and in the process, they've produced their most immediately accessible album to date.