posted on 3/2011 By:
Round about a decade or so ago a boldly-titled comp called True Kings of Norway was released on Spikefarm Records. Featured were embryonic early works by Emperor, Immortal, Arcturus, Dimmu Borgir, and Ancient, obviously slapped together to milk the then-waxing popularity of big-time Norwegian black metal. The absence of other, some might say more influential, acts was a mystery. No Darkthrone? No Burzum or Mayhem? Maybe it's time to update this comp by not only adjusting the “kings” of the Second Wave but also including today’s heroes. Abbath and co. are obviously still lords, as are Misters Fenriz and Nocturno Culto and several others of the original Norwegian expansion, but another band deserves mention, one that reached up and grasped their title as heavy metal royalty with a little masterpiece called Milorg (an album that, had I had the chance to review it here, would likely have received perfect marks). That band is Vreid, goddamnit.
Vreid’s journey to their throne was far from direct. Rising from the ashes of the incredible (and incredibly under-appreciated) Windir, they burst onto the scene with 2004’s top-notch Kraft before following it with two good-not-great albums. Not until the aforementioned Milorg hit in 2009 was Vreid’s full potential realized.
So now, barely two years removed from that album, they’ve returned (didn’t think I’d get to it did ya?) with the simply-titled V. (Bruce Dickinson sidebar: “You see, the album title, it works on two levels. In one way, “V” is just, like, a letter of the alphabet, roight? A letter which, you know, stands for Vreid. But at the same time, “V” is also a Roman numeral for, like, the number five [holds up hand to reveal five fingers], and this is Vreid’s fifth record, mate. So it’s like, two levels. It’s fuckin’ mind-bogglin’ if you ask me.”) And in V the band has done two things. First, they’ve proven that they’ve become far more reliable than Pitch Black Brigade and I Krig showed them to be, and secondly, they have wisely not attempted to duplicate Milorg, instead offering a new side to the face we know as Vreid.
Until now, Vreid could rather conveniently be described as thrashy black metal with a good dose of rockin’ mixed in. On V, things get a mite more complex in the genre delineation department, coming in as something like “progressive blackened thrash’n’roll.” It’s not that different, mind you, but fresh enough within the band’s well-established framework to be worth mention. Still present are the punchy black/thrash riffs, harsh rasps, and flowing lead guitars that the band uses in lieu of keyboards for ambient effect. New to the party is a noted increase in instrumental prowess and prog leanings, no doubt spurned by the addition of another former Windir brother in Stian “Strom” Bakketeig on guitar. This new attention to fret-board activity is immediately evident with triple-lead harmonies – yes triple, bassist Hvall gets in on it too – in opener “Arche.” The band has also plastered the entire album with heaps of killer soloing, not the least of which turns “Wolverine Bastards” (gotta be a song title award for that one) into an early-album beast. At times these solos and proggisms will jump right out, and at others they are woven directly into the overall texture, aided by a lush and very astute production treatment for the instruments. (Only for the instruments however, for some reason the vocals seem quite separated from the rest—my only real complaint about the album.)
Occasional prog flourishes aside, the biggest way in which V separates itself from the rest of Vreid’s catalog is through a newfound compositional subtlety. On Milorg, war-torn themes were brought to the forefront through very confrontational music, meant to grab the listener by the throat with unrelenting force. Here, the band is comfortable letting things occasionally drift with increased atmospheric sections (not far removed from Milorg’s “Blücher pt. II” in style and execution) and less-aggressive riffery, even when the dials are fully cranked to metal. Nowhere is this new approach on display more than with the duo of “The Others and the Look” and its follower “Slave.” The former is a ten-minute centerpiece that builds with a near stealth that can almost be missed until Sture screams out “with the ashes I rise!” and a twisted climactic guitar solo ravishes your ears. The latter begins with one of the album’s most infectious riffs, only to quickly drop it in favor of an intense and emotional crescendo that naturally builds back to said introductory riff. This deft attention to detail was also applied to the full construction of V, but while the album may rock your socks off from the first note, a full comprehension of its holistic structure will undoubtedly take many spins. This is a layered and deceptively complex collection of songs, but the more you listen, the more the brilliant finale of “Then We Die” will sink in and increase the album’s total worth.
As different in many ways as V is from its predecessors, an ultimate quality judgment has to be made. Is Vreid’s newest as strong as Milorg? In a word, no. But Milorg was a career album, one that very few bands can ever hope to make and one of black metal’s true classics of the last few years. So we might just have to forgive Vreid if they followed up their magnum opus with an album that is only “incredibly fucking killer,” “serious album-of-the-year contender” or “easily their second best.” Excuse them for merely solidifying their suspected status as new kings of Norway, and as some of the most kickass weapon-at-the-ready heavy metal gladiators working today.
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