Album Title: Legend
Label: Profound Lore Records
Date of Release: 22 April 2022
My inbox is full to bursting with news, information, and requests for reviews from bands, PR companies, and record labels. So much so, that I don’t always get around to listening to everything. It gets even more difficult to get through everything when your interest is piqued by an album that wasn’t sent by email, but which you stumble across during a quick scan of social media. As if I didn’t have enough music to check out already. I’m only one man and there are only so many hours in the day, after all. I’m not complaining, just making the point that it’s almost impossible to cover everything I want to. On this occasion, though, it is hard to regret my discovery.
The band in question are named Vanum. They are described as ‘atmospheric black metal’ and they hail from New York. It appears that the band are a quartet, but further detail is difficult to come by via official channels, and I’m loathe to speculate on the accuracy of other sites that suggest names of the protagonists given that I’ve been burned before. So, for the purposes of this review, the four musicians will remain nameless.
Nameless or not, there is a genuine charm to ‘Legend’, their third full-length release, an album that I have enjoyed since the first spin. As is the case with much of the black metal genre, the production is average at best, veering into the lo-fi territory, meaning that there’s a feeling of muffled distance to the music. The blastbeats associated with this style of music are present and correct, but they are robbed of much of their power thanks to the mix. It’s the same with the ubiquitous fast-picked riffs; they feature throughout the record, but don’t have the impact that they could have had. Being critical about a deliberate aspect of Vanum’s music, though, is not going to serve any helpful purpose so I’ll park this avenue of criticism and move on. I’m able to do this fairly easily because the music itself has a real charm to it. This might seem like I’m damning Vanum with faint praise, but I assure you I’m not.
If, like me, your black metal preferences tend to lean towards the more organic, atmospheric, and grandiose end of the spectrum, you’ll want to check this album out. Best described as a bastardised blend of old-school black metal (Bathory et al) and classic heavy metal within a more standard black metal framework, the five tracks that make up ‘Legend’ are entirely engrossing and enjoyable regardless of the production or anything else for that matter.
The first thing that strikes me, is the sheer amount of melody that appears within each of the compositions. At nearly 47 minutes in length, it’s no surprise to learn that the songs are all long, drawn-out affairs, ranging from around seven to fourteen minutes. But in every one of the tracks, the time is used largely wisely. You could argue that a little further fat could have been trimmed from the edges, but there is something within each that means that it captures my attention and finds its way into my affections. And usually, it’s a really captivating melody, or something that makes
Seeing as there are only five songs here, I propose to reference each of them in turn, beginning with the opening track, ‘Adversary’. It begins slowly and ominously, almost cinematically, but with an immediate hint of epic melody to it. This melody gets stronger as the song develops, as does the majestic quality of the song, hinting at an almost Celtic folk feel through the spritely guitar lead lines. Synths bathe the entire song, whilst the vocals are raspy growls and shrieks that add grit and menace to the proceedings. I like the way that the intensity increases as the song develops, but whilst never abandoning the melodic sensibilities. In the end, the lead guitar notes create an almost catchy ending to the composition, which I can’t help but fall for.
‘The Gateway And The Key’ follows and, at the outset, is a more frenetic and aggressive track, with chunkier riffing alongside the faster staccato approach, and ever-more pained, tortured vocals. Nevertheless, Vanum manage to incorporate some nice groove, before bathing the song in loads of synth-led atmosphere to add that sense of the epic. Another excellent ingredient to the Vanum sound is their ability to dial things down a touch, creating some serenity in the midst of the onslaught, only to be exited via a killer lead guitar lick that’s pure classic metal and catchy as hell in the process.
That ability to inject calm into their black metal assault is arguably most prominent towards the back end of ‘Frozen In Vile Illumination’. The main body of the track is a pleasurable experience in its own right, but the final two minutes or thereabouts sees the band experimenting with a repetitive melody meted out by gentle clean guitars within which some strange ‘cosmic’ electronic sounds are woven to create a beguiling atmosphere.
There’s an immediate return to an all-out warp speed black metal assault from the outset of the title track. However, before too long, it settles down into more of a mid-tempo affair, where the guitars dish out yet more catchy lead lines to accent and compliment the track nicely. And then, out of nowhere, in comes an insanely catchy and melodic NWOBHM-inspired moment which acts as the gateway from mid-tempo, to frantic again. A proper bona-fide lead guitar solo makes a welcome appearance too, whilst seven bells are kicked out of the drums. In the blink of an eye, the song changes again, this time to provide us with a doom-infused stomp that’s ridiculously infectious and has me grinning to myself.
The final track, ‘Beneath The Pillars Of Earth And Air’ is the longest on offer and after a ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ style intro, we are plunged into a full-on doom metal affair, complete with bells and everything. The pace is sedate, but intriguing nonetheless, mainly because it’s so starkly different to what has gone before. As always though, melody is never far away, and before too long, the pace increases, and we find ourselves in more familiar surroundings. And whilst I must admit that it’s probably my least favourite of all the songs on ‘Legend’, it does provide great contrasts, including purely orchestral, cinematic moments, to languid, majestic aural vistas where the aggression takes a back seat for a time.
I’m certain many of you, like me, will know very little about Vanum, but I really hope that changes with ‘Legend’. This is, production quality aside, a little gem of a black metal album; melody, variety, atmosphere – it’s all here, and it’s a cracking listen from start to finish. If you have any kind of appetite for black metal in any of its various forms, I urge you to give this a try, as soon as possible.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%
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