Thursday, July 9, 2015
Vardan - Between the Fog and Shadows 
It would have been a high supposition at any rate to expect Italian one man suicidal black metal hermit Vardan to cast aside the cumbersome simplicity and rawness of his album ''Winter Woods'' and the dozen records which precede it and break mold with his 6th album for the year, ''Between the Fog and Shadows'', since the man has not only failed to mature in his taste for cover art but also to artistically develop and improve upon the quality of the music on way of another, let alone cast a wider net of influences to garner sounds from. Vardan's creative repertoire is quite frankly depleted at this point, but somehow he can still come up with songs of 10+ length by downsizing what the works of Burzum or fellow countrymen Forgotten Tomb into a recalcitrant amalgamation begetting nothing but doom and desolation. My only theory at this point is that he's bulk buying from some low-income producer of depressive bedroom black metal - who, by the way, might currently be strumming the strings of his next bleak piece - and then presenting them in seemingly remote packages for the maximum amount of profit. If not that, the man is working his ass off every hour of the day, crafting these dreary, sleepwalking bevies of desolation and wintry silence, and it's a real shame that the amount of work he's culminated hardly accrues into quality writing, on a par with other prolific modern black metal musicians like Jute Gyte. Quality over quantity, right?
The pastiche is the same; the musical equivalent of being strapped on a crucifix and slowly gliding through an icy fjord by midnight, with owls creaking in their groves and the forest leaves rustling silently behind. This is the kind of immersive experience already channeled by the likes of Midnight Odyssey, but Vardan are far too down-to-earth and never take the aesthetic to its cosmic and astronomical, mesmerizing flights as some other bands do, with raw and perturbed production standards capturing most of that early 90's Burzum/Darkthrone tone. Simplistic riffs in the river of convergence here. There is not even a hugely chord-based, Scandinavian trope to be found, since I found ''Between the Fog and Shadows'' to be even more dolorous than its predecessor, and instead there are loads of stringy open chords and flimsy, distorted arpeggios all over the place: the result is not a mess of whirlwind of intensity, but a pale wave of desolation and distress like ripples in the water. There are moments where Vardan will splash some damp gloss on the sway of the guitars with these odd, slightly inaudible synthesizers that remind me of the ambient mastery of Forest Silence, a Hungarian black metal outlet extraordinaire, but as much as I enjoyed the momentary aural realizations of the synthesizers, they're much too buried in the mix and the frankly poor levels of production to have any sheen. To wit, the songs feel outrageously long at times, and rightfully so, since by cutting down to 3 tracks Vardan is presenting us with songs of 11, 15 and 18 minutes in length, respectively, each another frigid exercise in blatant chord strumming and almost apologetic depression ad nauseam, with few breathing holes existing within their immersive bodies for the listener to take a moment from the monotony.
This seems like some pretty hateful flak here, but in fact there are some fairly 'enjoyable' sequences to be found within the album. ''Solitary Death of a Forest Spirit'' is easily the best among the triplet, with dissonant and angry chord sequences ousting the slower, black/doom moments and a rather excellent, rainy array of ambient synths working their way through the middle of the song, and during one of those rare instances Vardan truly captures the monotonous, dreary bulwark of emotion it needs to synthesize to its entirety. The riffs, limited in their natural disposition of favoring recurring waves rather than slews of unhinged creativity, are nonetheless not too bad, but I don't feel too good for them either. Vardan's vocals, once more, while the possible game changer, become stunted and lethargic as the record passes on, and with all the records pacing in linear currents and motives, vocal duties hardly retain a symbiotic relationship with the other instruments, merely propagating these harsh, unruly, echoing ululations and howls that are quite cold and haunting in their own respect, but fall short of excellent in the long-run. Unfortunately, while all the instruments never dip below the level of 'average', the drums are quite fucking painful. I'm not know to be a complainer of drums as much as I chastise guitars and riff-craft, but even the silent reviewer has to despair the awful stampede of the open hi-hat and the unnecessary loudness of the drums in general. This is a bedroom black metal record, and the drums should traditionally be embedded deep in the mix, way behind the guitars and vocals, but here they're constantly to the fore, without even producing anything besides simple beats. As Fenriz says the drums are only supposed ''to... be there'' - and thus on this one point I will be unabashedly cancel my charitableness. Fuck you, drums.
Beside that little mishap, ''Between the Fog and Shadows'' is not a bad record, and that mournful sameness it breeds would help you with sleep if one day you're in the mood for slashing your wrists open and there aren't any knives to be found in your house. Anti-depressants that come with corpse paint. But heck, we've already been through this, and if you've somehow traced this review from whatever obscure source you found it in, you're probably pretty well-versed in black metal yourself, and know that groups like Burzum, Bethlehem, Forgotten Tomb, Sombres Forets or Austere have long emerged as apostles of this somber, wintry sub-genre, so your chances are probably stronger with them.
Solitary Death of a Forest Spirit