[click here for part 1]
DUNGEN guitarist, Reine Fiske came out to begin moving equipment and was followed shortly by Mattias and drummer, Johan Holmegard. Since DUNGEN‘s inception, Gustav Ejstes has been the primary force behind everything; arranging, writing, and manning the majority of the instruments on all 6 of his albums. Fiske has been a major contributor since the first release and, in recent years, Ejstes has been able to reduce nearly all of his drum work by passing duties over to Holmegard. Regardless of the quartet having solidified as much more of a formal “band” these days, Ejstes still performs a total of 8 different instruments on their brand new release, Skit i Allt (meaning: “Fuck All”) and continues to switch it up a bit in the live format. Prior to making his entrance, a small upright piano was brought out and placed on the stage for the vocalist. Yep… the setup was beginning to give me a bit of a flashback to last year and this was a good thing. We tried to hype the fuck out of this performance and, although the crowd wasn’t at the capacity that these skilled musicians warranted, I could easily locate individuals whom I personally made the suggestion to. Now it was DUNGEN‘s turn to make good on the promises that I had made for them.
When Gustav finally appeared, he humbly spoke into the mic, “I’m so nervous. I don’t know why.” He clarified that by explaining that it went “so well” the last time that they were in Seattle. Ejstes was wearing a Fleet Foxes T-Shirt, representing their past tour mates/local friends who had made an appearance with them on stage during that previous performance. He made a point to give a shout out to Mattias Gustavsson‘s mom, who was in attendance, and then made a subtle yet comical statement about how attractive she was. After his brief greeting, the rest of the band was ready, so he sat down at the keys and they instantly tore into the song “Vara Snabb“.
“Vara Snabb” is also the opening track for Skit i Allt. I had the opportunity to listen to the new release for a week or so prior to the show and, while it didn’t pull me in as immediately as some of their past efforts, I was really anxious to see how the new tracks would come across live. My conclusion was instantly favorable and the Swedes sounded as amazing as I had remembered them. Like many Americans, my first exposure to DUNGEN came via their breakout third album, Ta Det Lugnt. A friend had lent me the CD and, only after having it in my possession for weeks, I finally decided to check it out. “Panda“, the first cut, had fragrant and infectious harmonies soldered into a powerful whirlwind of garage/psych rock grime that reached in and hooked me like a noodled catfish. Ejstes‘ compositions have always showcased a great deal of range throughout all of his releases, but many of those who were drawn in by the heavier, psychedelically chaotic moments have been unable to adapt to the more recent releases. The 2008 album, 4 seemed to retain a higher percentage of jazz and folk heavy numbers and, now with Skit i Allt, the group continues to explore those territories even further. I have a feeling that this new release may reduce the group’s following even further, but it’s actually a really solid effort throughout. As a whole, Skit i Allt transports the listener to picnics in sepia-toned spring fields, with majestic crows swirling on cannabis and lilac tinctured breezes. It’s less napalm and more grainy super-8 afternoons swimming at the quarry in cut offs. Don’t get me wrong, it does have it’s moments of brush fires and/or the sudden collapse of a wood-rotted barn, but they pull back the reins on the rusty, carnival ride banshee screeches and crank up the whimsical pixie vibe a few notches. Out of the dungeon and into the dungen (aka: “the grove”), if you will. More glen and less Glenn. Whereas tracks like “Intro” (Tio Bitar) took grisly off-road treks through hellish landscapes, while incorporating the occasional pit stop at a gentle brook, Skit i Alt continues to demonstrate DUNGEN‘s ability to craft equally tremendous compositions when they invert that formula.
Ejstes and his minions hit the ground running and it was evident that even those who had yet to hear the new album were already being swallowed up by the set opener like plankton. “Vara Snabb” sounded so smooth that it was surprising to hear Fiske make a side comment about them having problems during the song. They followed it with the shrieking feedback and crushing distortion of “Bortglomd” (Ta Det Lugnt) and the ominous sailboat ride of “Mina Damer Och Fasaner” (4) before returning to another new track, “Barnen Undrar“. Within the first 3 songs, Gustav had already pulverized his piano keys, manned an acoustic guitar, and gently coaxed apparitions from his flute. He would often shift from supplying vocals from behind his piano bench to leaping onto his feet, stomping around and laying into his tambourine like it forgot the words to an Ike Turner song.
For someone who carefully crafts his compositions to be content with simply dancing around with a percussive instrument at times, displays a great deal of confidence in his “backing” band, but these guys are no joke and are extremely accomplished musicians in their own right. Johan Holmegard drums with mind-boggling precision, without sacrificing any power or ferocity. As for Reine Fiske‘s guitar work, his abilities were as puzzling to me as ever, and I was standing right in front of him the entire show. In groups where everyone is this equally skilled (as with Zeppelin, Phish, Rush, etc) each of the members almost seem to take on their own individual superhero-like persona. Fiske creates feedback and distortion that are inherently chaotic in nature, but then manages to direct them at will, as if wielding a haunted scythe. Holmegard forms cracks in the Earth, while, Mattias Gustavvson supplies pulsating tremors and Fiske hovers in the eye of his own self-created tornado. DUNGEN has the ability to venture into areas of undeniable beauty, but it just as often felt as if they were summoning a kraken and controlling it with a shock collar.
They continued the show by alternating back and forth between tracks from Ta Det Lugnt and 4. They went from “Festival” into the song “Bandhagen“, which Gustav mentioned was about a town in Sweden where he once lived. Then came “Sluta Folja Efter“, “Fredag“, and “Panda“. This is the portion of the show where the band really started to hit some uneven tread.
I found this video footage of “Fredag” [above] from a member on Youtube and, although I’m sure that its washed-out graininess wasn’t created by design, it does offer a somewhat fitting aesthetic, along with some nice audio and insight into what was happening at the show. If you keep your eyes on Reine Fiske [left], you’ll notice that he’s having some issues with his equipment. It’s not uncommon for him to face his amp throughout the show, but this time it wasn’t so much done to create feedback as it was to figure out what the fuck was going on. Beyond just tweaking knobs, this is also the point where he broke one of his guitar strings. Unless you are incredibly familiar with the tune, however, you may not even notice any issues if you were to listen to the audio alone.
“Panda” was the first time that their sound was substantially effected by the technical difficulties that the group and, more specifically, Reine Fiske were experiencing. When Holmegard pounded out the opening drum intro, Gustav humorously directed him to stretch it out longer and longer, while Fiske attempted to slap on a new string and pull his equipment problems together. Once the song was in full swing, however, there were noticeable crunches of distortion, along with abrupt dropouts and blaring surges in the audio. The next two songs, “Blandband” and “Marken Lag Stilla“, were new tracks from Skit i Allt. Fiske‘s amp didn’t sound like it was at risk of blowing out anymore, but I could sense his frustration as he encountered issues like unplugging the chord from his pedals with his own foot. There was a bit of a delay when they decided to kick into the title track from Ta Det Lugnt. I’m not sure of the exact issue but, as Gustav grabbed his electric guitar and they tried to deal with whatever was holding them back, Holmegard did his best to kill time. He grabbed the mic and explained that this was the point in the show where he should tell jokes to fill in any downtime and that he would, but didn’t know any.
Everyone left the stage but Gustav returned shortly after for a solo piano version of “Det Tar Tid“. He finished the song off with a little beat box and the subsequent statement, “all that scratching is making me itch” before joining the rest of his pals backstage. It wasn’t long before the whole band returned and took their individual positions for the encore. Ejstes gave props to his cohorts’ musical proficiency and indispensable contributions by joking that he just plays the tambourine. As Reine strapped on his guitar, he spoke into the mic, “We just had a fight, so this is the last song“. Ejstes responded immediately with, “But we made up” and then began smashing away at his keys as they entered into “Hogdalstoppen“. This song features what are easily the most unwieldy and aggressively demonic moments on the new album. For their live rendition, they decided to take it up yet another notch but, right in the middle of the unadulterated full-on chaos, something went wrong. I’m not sure if Reine broke another string, if his pedals came unplugged again, or what happened, but he was definitely pissed off and he definitely showed it. He yanked off his guitar, slammed it down on the ground, smacked a drink off of Ejstes‘ piano, and then stormed off the stage. The show was over. The rest of the band smiled cordially and waved goodbye, with Ejstes even returning later to greet folks in the dispersing crowd.
A DUNGEN show is not unlike modifying a giant hang-glider into a stunt kite, strapping it to a venue, and then pushing it off of a cliff. There are enthralling nose dives, drastic ascensions, tranquil soars, sharp turns, plummeting drops, and plenty of tail-spins. This particular show encountered some additional turbulence, but who gives a fuck? It was still packed tight with enough jaw dropping moments for me to consider it a successful evening. I’m sure that Fiske might disagree, but I’m also sure that the majority of the crowd had no idea that there were any issues at all until he slammed that fucking guitar into the stage. His frustration only demonstrates the very passion that infuses the group with their drive and potency in the first place. Regardless of their generally light-hearted attitudes, they take their crafts incredibly seriously. After one especially intense jam, Gustav calmly segued into telling the audience that he had visited the hotdog stand across the street by stating that he had eaten “A sausage… or, a wiener… a piece of meat.” He then put focus on the cultural differences by adding that he had “remembered to tip” this time. DUNGEN‘s appeal comes from this dichotomy of jovial pleasure and therapeutic angst… exotic uncharted landscapes and musty nostalgia… time release Adderall and handfuls of Soma… comfort and anxiety. One minute you’re on a relaxing canoe ride and the next thing you know, you realize that you’re strapped to a torpedo. They have the skills, work ethic, and confidence, but without any of the gimmicky bullshit or pretentious attitudes of bands that believe their own hype. Perhaps it’s just my own cultural misinterpretation, but DUNGEN seems to maintain the perfect balance of really giving a fuck and really NOT giving a fuck.
And the new album? It’s good and the songs that they performed blended in with their older material fairly seamlessly. Skit i Allt doesn’t really have that one huge powerhouse track of a “Panda“, instantly knocking me across the chops with it’s vicious paw the first time through. It’s more subtle than that and the more that I listen to it, the more that it grows and the intricacies pronounce themselves. These guys aren’t just an ultra-precise prog band, relying on 38 minute technical compositions or even a stoner metal group consisting strictly on fat droned-out chords. Instead, they often find themselves somewhere in between. DUNGEN has a tendency to move from genre to genre on an album and even within the same song. Their new release is a little bit different. It’s definitely its own entity, but it works much better when it’s simply viewed as one singular component in their catalog. Remember, these guys are already 6 albums deep and it feels as though Ejstes is approaching his compositions with a much broader view at this point. I believe that many people will miss some of the intense fluctuations, which were demonstrated so prominently throughout the earlier releases, but it feels ironic to view any new change in direction as an enemy of diversity. It’s all about how close you want to focus your microscope, but when you pan out and view the larger picture of DUNGEN‘s career and their development as a whole, I find that Skit i Allt will prove a solid addition to the quartet’s legacy. It’s similar to the way that their setlist is composed of various songs from different time periods, but they work together to create one complete show, or even how the sum of the parts overshadowed any gaps or missteps throughout the night. For now, I’m content enough with the acknowledgment that DUNGEN is still going strong and that what they are creating now is only sewing the seeds for and in preparation of the future.