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Varjoissa - 86%

Noctir, October 8th, 2012

Varjoissa is the first demo recorded by Horna, released in September 1995 and limited to 150 copies. This obscure tape would serve as the foundation on which to build the legacy of one of Finland's most important underground bands, possibly the best ever. Whereas bands like Beherit and Archgoat would make their contributions rather briefly and fade back into the shadows, and even Impaled Nazarene only had two or three good albums in them, Horna has grown like a malignant cancer that feeds on the darkness within us all. The band has only improved with time, yet remaining true to its roots, and it began here.

The material here is almost more closely related to what the band would release in its later days, as opposed to the very demo and albums that immediately follow it. There is a dark and haunting atmosphere created by the abundance of mournful tremolo melodies and the anguished vocals. At times, there is even an epic feeling, such as the riff that appears around the middle of the title track. There is a close connection between this music and that of the early Norwegian black metal scene, with Shatraug often citing Emperor's earliest work as one of the primary influences for forming a band. In fact, the songwriting is quite a bit stronger than a lot of the aforementioned band's works, with a strong sense of consistency that runs through all of the songs. There is a decent amount of variation in tempo, though most of the songs are built round the typical northern sound, with fast-picked tremolo riffs and intense drumming. The pace slows down, at times, when needed. The vocals sound influenced by Count Grishnackh's efforts on the early Burzum records, being sort of a tormented shriek instead of anything particularly demonic. It definitely suits the sombre tone of the guitar riffs.

Another factor in making this such a good demo is that the production is exactly how it should be. Whereas the band's first albums sounded a bit too modern, at times, this has a pure underground production that really helps with the obscure and sorrowful atmosphere that the music creates. Everything is arranged to allow the guitars to be the center of attention and to have space to breathe. The vocals are buried in the mix, a bit, but this only helps the overall feeling. The drumming is clear enough to keep time but never interferes with what is important. This may not compare to the necro sound of Wrath of the Tyrants, but is more along the lines of A Sorcery Written in Blood or Transilvanian Hunger. It is strange how the band developed, as this overall sound and material almost seems more in line with the efforts that follow Sudentaival.

Varjoissa may be overlooked as some meaningless demo tape, but to ignore this release would be a serious mistake. What Horna managed to create here is actually much more impressive than anything on Hiidentorni, for example, with a better sound and higher quality songwriting. The vocals may take some getting used to, but Shatraug did a much better job with this style than Nazgul ever did. Seek this out, one way or another, and witness the raw misery and darkness of Horna's earliest days.

Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com