Valdrin – Effigy Of Nightmares

Band: Valdrin
Title: Effigy Of Nightmares
Label: Blood Harvest
Release Date: 12 June 2020
Country: USA
Format Reviewed: Digital stream

The world of Black Metal to me is like a party I’m observing through a window from out on the street. I see a lot of people in there and they seem to be having a great time, but if I step inside it doesn’t seem as much fun as I thought it would be. From time to time though something comes along that just grabs me with the quality of the music and where those aesthetics that often seem jarring to me come to make sense. “Effigy of Nightmares” the latest album by Ohio’s VALDRIN is definitely one such release.

The band themselves name-check Swedish Melodic Black Metal bands VINTERLAND, SACRAMENTUM and DAWN as influences. To hold my hands up to my limited experience with Black Metal I was barely familiar with all three of those bands, but I have to say, from a brief listen I like them all, so maybe I’m coming to discover a lane of Black Metal that I enjoy. I’ve seen EMPEROR given as a musical reference point, but despite some occasional wild guitar soloing towards the end of the album, this is not at all a flashy record when it comes to showing off great guitar virtuosity, as the guitar playing of Ihsahn often seems to be (not knocking EMPEROR, it’s just different). And in contrast to all the above mentioned bands, despite some aggressively pummelling sections there is a very distinctive production on this album that pushes everything back creating a distant, haunting feeling.

From the outset the particular atmosphere and sound of this record really impresses itself on the listener. Opening with the ominous, darkly cinematic scene setting of “Gates of Hospice”, aheavily reverbed piano line accompanied by swirling textures, whispered echoing voices and altogether spooky synths and percussion builds to an obvious moment of climax and you think “ok, where is this going to take us? What’s the payoff going to be?” The immediate answer comes in the second track “Exsanguination Tunnels where we get to hear the band in full force and the cavernous sound of the production is wholly apparent. The track itself opens with a great, eerie synth line that carries into some more recognisably Black Metal riffing and typically ghoulish vocals. Fittingly for the grand concept of the record (something about travelling through a nightmare hospital in the underworld) it’s not hard to imagine falling through a dark tunnel and hearing this music booming out from the darkness. When all the synths, guitars, bass, vocals and drums are interweaving, the instrumentation does start to blend together, I find that the sound really suits the music and the atmosphere of the record is incredibly effective.

But atmosphere alone does not a great record make, and thankfully what “Effigy of Nightmares” also has is great, memorable melodies. And I definitely use the word “melodies” rather than “riffs”, because while yes there is plenty of guitar riffing going on what I think really carries the record are the melodies, whether coming via synths or guitar. Take for example the wonderful descending synth line of “Red Burning Candles of Hatred” (which the guitars then mirror), the gloomy and emotive resonating melody mid-way through “Basilisk of Light”, the acoustic guitar driven “Serpentine Bloodhalls” (with perhaps a little nod to OPETH in there), or the haunting waltz-like closing track “Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom”. Together with all these melodic elements, the sections where the band charge into a cacophonous maelstrom of dissonant guitars and hammering drums create an extremely powerful and rounded musical journey, where for someone like me (not such a fan of Black Metal) the more abrasive elements make sense and fit into an experience that can be harsh and aggressive, but it’s always going somewhere and moreover I’m interested to hear where it’s going to go next.

Coming in at just over 30min, this album is pretty much the perfect length for me for such a musical journey. I wouldn’t say that I feel like immediately sitting through it again once I get to the end, because it is an intense experience and once over I want a moment or two of quiet reflection, but every time I put this album back on I immediately remember why I like it so much. Thanks to this album if someone asks me if there’s any current Black Metal that I like I can instantly say “Yes, VALDRIN”. 9/10 Tom Boatman

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