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Few extreme metal composers are able to merge several musical styles harmoniously, in balance with each other, while remaining accessible and melodic. This feat has been achieved, however, by Lars Stavdal with his solo project Wallachia’s third album. Skeptical at first, I was quickly seduced by the remarkable qualities of Shunya, which fits brilliantly in Norwegian melodic brand of Black Metal.
It is indeed difficult to resist an aesthetic universe which is such highly reminiscent of Windir’s, with this refined mixture of aggressive metal, synthesizers and more traditional string instruments. However, the band’s only permanent member manages to avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism, on which so many other musicians broke themselves. His music has indeed its own identity, at the porous borders of black metal, melodeath and pagan metal. Epic and catchy songs are emerging from this maelstrom, and they never sink into melodic debauchery or « Viking » bands’ nullity.
In fact, the group is able to go from great ferocity to pure keyboard harmonic passages on the same song, notably on the brilliant opening piece Dual Nothingness, thereby establishing the stylistic path through which the composer walk. Each track on the album is well designed with its own characteristics, but through a firmly held general pattern. However, I wish to emphasize the beautiful conclusive song called Emotional Ground Zero, with a string section that adds tremendous depth and deploys a great dreamy and melancholic atmosphere.
Hardliner Black Metal fans will probably despise this album, far too melodic for them. However, those whose tastes are more varied and know how to appreciate great song writing will have a lot of fun discovering Shunya, a record much more interesting than anything the power / melodeath not-so-pagan scene has released in years.
Originally written for Métal Obscur.
After two well received albums, 1999's “From Behind the Light” and 2009's “Ceremony of Ascension”, Wallachia returns with a third album of folk tinged, symphonic black metal, entitled “Shunya”. This album is a mixed bag, borrowing elements from all over the map, but Wallachia's ability to weave those elements into a coherent and smoothly flowing tapestry of sound is their strongest point. While Wallachia doesn’t push any boundaries, “Shunya” is an enjoyable listen and should find suitable homes in a many a metal listener’s collection.
Rather than being a straight symphonic black metal opus, Wallachia throws in outside elements to keep “Shunya” from growing stale. Hearing the first notes of the album on “Dual Nothingness”, you realize that the core of the music is definitely black metal, complete with trem riffing and extremely fast drumming, but listening to the album for more than forty-five seconds shows the outside influences jumping in. Airy, spacy Borknagar styled keyboard lines pop in as the guitars begin to chug and the drums move into a more accessible groove laden rhythm, all the while symphonic elements hide behind the wall of riffing and pounding drums. That’s how “Shunya” operates: Wallachia play some black metal then venture off into folky meandering musings or spacey progressive wanderings and then come right back.
The whole of the album is a lot less disjointed than it sounds, though. The folk elements, especially, are brought forth slowly, with subtle shifting in the orchestral backgrounds preparing the listener for what’s to come. Wallachia does not bring forth sudden and jarring transitions like the more avant-garde bands. Take the long and twining “Emotional Ground Zero” for instance: the song starts out with clean twining and meandering guitar work with an airy keyboard overlay. The keys start to build momentum until a thundering bass line and scale driven riff work their way into a catchy, mid paced palm muted chugging section that then begins to incorporate more of those spacy keyboards while violins and other strings float in the background. Everything is well thought out and carefully placed, as even with everything going on it’s a smooth and enjoyable listen.
The guitars are exceptionally clear throughout the entire album. The heavier sections range from mid paced trem picking to a mid paced palm muted style, bordering on groove metal at times. The emphasis on heavier, catchy riffing while still staying within the blackened realms, calls to mind the later work of the almighty Emperor (especially “Prometheus”). Slower lead sections are thrown in that are usually slower paced and brooding, adding a doomy atmosphere. A lot of clean sections weave throughout the music, with meandering and snaking guitar melodies that sound straight out of the Mikael Åkerfeldt school of prog.
The rhythm section is exceptional on “Shunya”. The drums are more interesting than the garden variety black metal act, opting for a catchy, groove style at times and at other times blasting into high octane speeds bordering on blast beats. The bass is thick and chunky. The bass lines float behind everything else adding quite a bit of spring and bounce to the music, following the guitar for most of the album but occasionally venturing out into a thundering fret walk. The rhythm section, as a whole, puts on quite a dynamic performance and shows that there is more to black metal than blast beats and inaudible bass.
Vocally, Wallachia covers the entire board. “Dual Nothingness” displays a mid register, raspy black scream while “Hypotheist” delves into a very stiff and uncomfortable chanted style, similar to Galder's cleans from Old Man's Child. The majority of the vocals are some form of a black metal rasp. At times they get a little closer to a death metal growl and other times they go into a higher pitched black metal screech. The cleans spattered throughout the album sound extremely forced, but are passable as they tend to accentuate the slower, proggy sections quite well. Don't be surprised at the diversity in the vocal department, like I said, it's all over the place.
Wallachia's most unique aspect is the orchestral or symphonic elements. Rather than the wanky keyboards or cheesy synthesized dungeon delving accoutrements of other black metal bands, Wallachia opts for a more classical and serene approach. Whether or not the orchestral elements are synthesized is beside the point, Wallachia's use of stringed instruments (violin, cello, etc), especially when presented behind the prog rock sections, gives the music a more mature sound than most. Songs like “Ksatriya” and “Emotional Ground Zero” utilize the stringed instruments to give a serene atmosphere to an otherwise dark style of music. With the wall of orchestration played behind the more melodic sections and the heavier sections, it allows the band room to expand and contract, with the orchestration being the single constant between everything.
Wallachia's third opus, “Shunya”, should appeal to fans of symphonic black metal acts like Carach Angren. While the band does suffer from a bit of schizophrenia in the vocal department, “Shunya” is a very consistently enjoyable album. Perhaps die hard and true black metal fans will shrug this off as being too far reaching and too far away from the realms of standard black metal, but those adventurous souls not afraid of some outside influence will find a very mature, well written and well played album full of orchestral black metal with prog and folk touches.