Crown Of Sorrow
posted on 5/2010 By:
Somewhere out in the nebulous immensity of the cosmos, directly on the curve between fabrication and factuality, floats a land inhabited by the peculiar cerebral offspring of the three eccentrics who make up Deutschland's purveyors of heavy metal quirk, Valborg. It's an oddball, forbidden-fable continent colonized by beasts begat from the musical myths woven not only by the dudes' darkly pessimistic Valborg project, but also through their other metallic outlets: Island, Woburn House and Klabautamann. Though the four entities remain separate at their respective cores, there are indeed musical overlaps on occasion, and they've been hitched together over the years by a common goal of phonically painting dark and dismaying landscapes that howl strange lore through the medium of extreme music. If their albums were fairy-tales, they'd be penned by Maurice Sendak wearing studded gauntlets. Books: Neil Gaiman invisible oranging with Clive Barker. Movies: Nightbreed under the dooming eye of Dario Argento. Basically, it's brooding, peculiar and motley material tailor-made for metal fans with a more adventurous palate.
Of the four territories that comprise this fabled Germanic continent, the Valborg region is undoubtedly the darkest. 2009's Glorification of Pain set the stage with its inky, smothering and oddly subdued approach to "progressive" death metal (I use the term "death metal" very loosely here, as the gruff vocals are probably the closest thing tying said genre to the band), but Crown of Sorrow opens the windows in the stuffy cabin by the lake and lets the dusty sheet music blow around a bit more. The slightly angular Voivod inspired riffing still jumps to the foreground fairly often when measures are harsher (especially during opener "Wisdom from the Vortex"), and we still find instrumental cuts such as "Ancient Horrors" that wander very close to the electric, casual mellowness of self-titled-era Island material. Crown of Sorrow incorporates even more divergence compared to the 2009 effort, however, the most significant difference being the inclusion of celestial keyboards to add yet another dimension to the dark Valborg sound. Tunes such as the excellent "Thunderbolt," "Tristesse" and the album's longest cut, "I Am Space" (more on this one later) use them rather sparingly to amplify a very eerie mood, but they take center stage for the brief instrumental, "Transcending the Sorrows of an Earth Unseen."
Also further spicing the stew are a handful of new vocal approaches this time around. I absolutely love the inclusion of the booming, nearly spoken voice at the heart of "Thunderbolt," which sounds as if they were spouted directly from the maw of Galactus from On High. This same cut ushers in a new low in terms of grumbly gruffness as well, when we're eventually visited by its protagonist: the "embittered Nocturnal Lord" himself. The rest of the material mixes in measures of deep, gothic muttering ("Tristesse") to suit mellowness, and plenty of snapshots that elicit T. Warrior, someone who's actually come out and given the official nod to Valborg due to their strength live on stage. And as long as I'm speaking of Mr. Warrior, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much this record reminds me of something he might have produced had he not become so bitterly disenchanted with the music industry and headed down such a purely bludgeoning path. Valborg proudly display the sort of "we don't give a toss about boundaries" attitude Frost displayed back during the Into the Pandemonium days.
And just when you think you've got this record figured out, in waltzes the 11-minute opus, "I Am Space." I honestly don't think I could have been any less prepared to face this odd tune, folks. It sounds like a head-on collision between "I'm Afraid of Americans"-Bowie/Eno and a terribly blasphemic heavy metal band. I don't recall ever snapping my fingers so happily alongside lyrics that croon of creating gods through feces, but I guess there's a first for nearly everything.
There's really not much here to point a critical finger toward. I'd imagine some folks might get ruffled because of the album's brevity; at 35-minutes it does have a relatively short stance. But similar to its predecessor, and perhaps even more-so, Crown of Sorrow is a record best suited for consumption as a whole. There are a few stand-out tunes -- "Thunderbolt," "Crying Under the Fortress of God" (awesome) and "I Am Space" -- but really, this is a 35-minute sitdown type of record. And the scope of terrain the album covers in that relatively short span is really pretty amazing.
Those who fell headfirst and happily into the cozy darkness of Glorification of Pain will undoubtedly find loads to enjoy here. And if you've yet to receive the Valborg indoctrination and love the idea of weirdly progressive heavy metal with mountains of peculiar twists and turns, welcome to one of your top albums of 2010.
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Glorification Of Pain