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The black and red painted pagan metal warriors, Varg, return with their fourth full length release, entitled “Guten Tag”. Gimmicks and appearances aside, Varg's latest offering merges the heaviness and power of pagan metal with the upbeat folkloric anthems of punk acts like Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphy's. While this sounds like a pretty apt description of most folk metal acts, Varg manages to have a similar feel without using folk instruments or wanky keyboard lines.
Varg's strongest element is their ability to merge several genres into something that sounds so similar to other acts yet retains such a strong air of originality. There are a large group of metal heads that believe folk netal has been done to death and has nothing new to offer the metal scene, and to some extent, I can agree that a lot of acts have been becoming more and more stale. Varg's merging of folk-laden punk with pagan metal comes across as a bastardized form of thrashy, catchy folk metal without the folk instruments.
The lead guitar work is the strongest link to folk metal here, which mimic the violin and fiddle patterns utilized on many folk metal albums. Actually the leads range from flowing, Iron Maiden inspired tapping to the Irish jig folk inspired solos, running a pretty large gamut of styles, but even the traditional metal inspired soloing has a folkish air to it. When coupled with the rollicking, power chord driven rhythm lines it makes for a catchy combination. The rhythm lines chug along with palm muted sections and catchy riffs, having a lot in common with groove metal or even a heavier version of punk. The rhythm guitar goes from the punkish grooves into some black metal inspired trem lines, covering a lot of territory and staying surprisingly catchy for the duration. The trem lines on “Was Nicht Darf” retain a certain catchiness, even with the music being extremely thick and heavy during this track while, he pounding, stomping sections like during “Apokalypse” with chunky, chugging palm muting keep the head bobbing.
The drums are fast paced and powerful. Double bass runs, fast paced double kick patterns, rolling fills, it's all here. The drummer has a tendency to go from a double kick pattern into a few seconds of machine gun speed double bass running back into the double kick. The rolls are very tom heavy, while not sounding tribal and the cymbals are constant yet somewhat subdued. The bass is thick and plodding, mirroring the chugging guitars for the most part.
The vocals are pretty much a cross between melodic death metal vocals a la Dark Tranquillity or mid-period In Flames and raspy black metal vocals. The result is a mid range shout with a trailing raspiness which remains quite clear during the performance. The vocals really aren't that special or breathtaking, but they help the band stay in the pagan metal realm a little more. A few deathy, deep sections jump in and out (like the verses on “Horizont”) and break up the one dimensional raspy shout a bit. “A Thousand Eyes” sees Jonne Järvelä, of Korpiklaani fame, doing some guest vocals, lending a little more credo to the folk metal leanings of Varg.
The songs basically sound like a metalized version of Boston flavored punk rock. The guitars are heavier, the vocals are heavier, the drums are heavier, but you can't shake the feeling that Varg should be playing somewhere in an Irish pub. Hell, even “Wieder Mal Verlor...” see the band bringing some guest bagpipes to continue the folkish flare. While the band doesn't readily use folk instruments like violins, fiddles and pan flutes, they are treading a pretty thin line between pagan metal and folk metal. The songs flow and unfold very similar to those of a lot of folk metal acts.
The whole of the album, while a fun listen, is a tad one dimensional. It's cool to hear the lead guitars knocking out some folk lines, but the rhythm section and rhythm guitars keep the same pace for most of the ride, mid paced. The songs are all catchy, but get to be a little much with repeated listens. This is a good performance, but a little diversity might not hurt. The band seems to want to break into the folk metal realms, and their use of bagpipes on “Wieder Mal Verlor...” shows they have the ability to excel at it. If you dig folk metal, check this out. Pagan purists may be turned off by the folk metal leanings here. Highly recommended to those who dig the folk-laden melodies of the Boston punk scene, but want something a little heavier while downing a Guinness.
Varg are a folk metal band from Coburg, Germany, founded by Phillip Seier (founder of the German pagan metal festival Wolfszeit), in 2005. Varg’s sound generally aims towards the folk metal style, popular in Europe right now, having the anthemic, catchy and upbeat qualities of heavy or power metal, combined with the native/pagan melodies and a dash of physical grit from black metal (although the band doesn’t really use folk-instruments in their music, which is somewhat uncommon). With their fourth album, Guten Tag, we see the band more or less continuing this stylistic approach, and while it features predominantly harsh vocals work, upon first listen one can tell this is a decently poppy approach.
When it comes to the guitar work this band tends to work in a few ways. One is the friendly, joyful approach which has the rhythm guitar play simple, heavy riffs, while the lead guitar plays over them with triumphant, folk-tinged anthems. These lead bits tend to be upbeat and catchy, sometimes harmonizing with the more meaningful riffs that come around. Sometimes the rhythm guitars get their time to shine with some black metal-based, buzz-saw tremolo riffing that ends up being really catchy, valiant and cathartic, containing some of the best parts of the album. There are points where the bands get into a more aggressive, serious approach, using drop tuned, heavy riffing to try and portray a sense of tough, barbarism. The aggressive riffing sometimes relates to thrash and really upbeat doom metal and tries to be ominous and intimidating, but sadly, a lot of the time it diverges off into clunky, bad groove metal, making it sound like band is trying really hard to counterbalance the sugary qualities found in their music. There’s also a few passages that are more or less full blown radio rock riffing. They’ll throw in these derivative chords patterns that are played mildly fast, and are really quite simple, poppy hooks and would probably work on a current Offspring record, but of course, sound rather tasteless and uncreative in this scenario.
Vocally, Freki sounds like pretty much every other folk metal vocalist, adding snarl and grit to beer-hall like choruses, giving you the impression that the lead singer of the band is a goblin. He’s decently coherent, and even though he sings in German most of the time, I can still make out the words – but like I said he’s not exactly unique. The lyrics on Guten Tag seem to be made up of some pretty safe themes: being yourself, society, nature conservation etc. Although the band does try to bleaken things up with the occasional end of the world-type song, but like the riffs that accompany them, they’re pretty weak attempts at Varg trying to look meaner than they really are. While there’s certainly a folk core to the melodies that Varg play, atmospherically and mood wise, I can’t really say I feel Guten Tag comes off as legitimately folky, paganistic or viking like. It just doesn’t seem like the band has any sort of true folk-soul, probably due to the multiple, blatantly modern aspects like the occasional rock solo/ riff and the crude attempts at aggression, as if they weren’t born in Europe at all. The only songs where I feel this has any sort of legitimate European soul to it is on the song, Thousand Eyes and Wieder mal verloren, and even then it’s only because they feature the talents of Jonne Järvelä (singer of Korpiklaani, who uses an interesting, Native American sounding vocal technique on that track) and Päde Kistler (Bagpipes for Eluvietie) respectively.
All in all, this is a catchy record that does grow from the first listen. At first, I thought it was pretty commercially crass and could possibly be what the Scandinavians listen to on the radio, but a lot of the more metal based riffs grew on me, and the lead work is impressive and well crafted. That being said, there are some pretty legitimate flaws. The attempts at being intimidating were generally embarrassing and the suspiciously counterfeit aspect to the pagan melodies added a weird taste to my mouth. I kind of feel like Varg would be better off just playing a black tinged form of power/thrash instead of adding the pagan/viking/folk element “just because”. But still, catchy, silly, fun and only mildly insulting to fans of folk, viking or pagan metal.
(Originally written for AXIS OF METAL as Adam Korchok http://axisofmetal.com/2012/10/varg-guten-tag-review/)
The year 2012 has witnessed the release of some pretty good albums, some have surpassed the expectations and some have failed to deliver, and it is among the best of this year's albums that "Guten Tag" stands tall. The German pagan band has managed to prove it's badassery once more and definitely stuck their feet in the ground with this record.
The album contains 13 songs and each one of them has advantages of their own, from the simple intro "Willkommen" to the end of the last song "Vorzeichen" the band has projected some pretty brilliant ideas and incredibly simple and catchy tunes, a great brutal surrounding with their heavy riffing and with the distinguished vocals and even a simple use of folk instruments with guest artists such as Päde Kistler from Eluveitie and Jonne Järvelä from Korpiklaani. The band is offering plenty of various ideas and managed to project them thoroughly.
The guitarists had some brilliant methods in this record, Not only titanic riffs in songs like "Guten Tag" and "Was nicht darf" and awesome guitar solos in songs like "Anti", but also in some beautiful well written acoustic parts in songs such as "Leben", and in folksy tones especially in songs such as "Blut und Feuer" and "Gedanke und Erinnerung". All these methods added even more variation to the album and kept offering surprises to the listener, it makes you know that this band is not easy to predict, and they can summon and connect different musical angles to provide a firm, almost perfect album.
Though this album has many songs, they are easy on the ear and can be captured and absorbed quickly and can be very addictive in a few listens only, the vocals and the quick drumming also helps a lot to establish a beautiful journey through Germanic pagan glory. This could be easily one of the best albums of this year and probably the best album this band managed to create. Highly recommended to the fans of death metal and the fans of all extreme pagan metal. It's as wild and brutal as a giant wolf, but also has great moments of clarity and beauty.