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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/)