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At least there's no Rundtgåing - 60%

Nightsward, December 8th, 2019

Vaal is yet another entity in a long, unending line of black metal bands that tries as hard as possible to imitate its second-wave Norwegian forefathers, said forefather in question this time being Burzum. I mean, seriously, take a look at the cover art; if it weren’t for the massive frostbitten castle taking up half the space it would practically be a Kittelsen painting (or shit, maybe it is a Kittelsen painting; I thought he was more into painting swamp trolls and vuvuzela-blowing farm ladies, but what do I know about art). Or listen to “Zielentocht”, pretty much half the riffs on that song sound like less tremolo-y versions of ones off of “Det som en gang var”. That said, though, this overall ends up being some surprisingly competent, if not incredibly original Burzum worship.

Most of this material falls solidly into the realm of Hvis lyset tar oss/Filosofem-era Burzum: mid-paced, fuzzy riffs that spend a lot of time repeating themselves, with occasional keyboards inserting themselves into the music here and there to create a sort of gloomy, hypnotic atmosphere. There are some little nods to other schools here and there; the first proper song, “Verloren in een vreemde droom”, starts off with some rather uncharacteristic blasting and tremolo, coming off as sounding very much like early days Burzum, and the keys themselves will occasionally take on a bit of a theatric flair that reminds me of early Dimmu or Emperor. To his credit, though, Mr. Vaal chooses to eschew some of black metal’s more ubiquitous tropes; there’s not much mindless tremoloing or blasting to be found here besides the aforementioned intro, and the production, far from imitating Hvis lyset’s fuzzed-out, treble-heavy production, is much more balanced, giving a fair amount of attention to the low end. Vaal’s vocals are also very un-Burzum-like, resembling more of a lazy wet rasp than Varg’s tortured shrieking, although I’m not sure this ultimately ends up being an improvement. Also unlike many of his legions of mediocre contemporaries, Vaal understands that he needs to include more than two riffs per song, and most of the songs will change things up a fair bit pacing and riff-wise, which stops the album from becoming too stale.

As is pretty standard on these kinds of atmo-black albums, Vaal includes a few ambient interludes here. Surprisingly though, these interludes don’t end up trying to imitate “Tomhet” or “Rundtgåing”; they’re instead pretty much pure droning dark ambient in the vein of acts like Northaunt and Atrium Carceri, with maybe a touch more melody than those groups include. They all have a sort of dark, pensive, desolate atmosphere to them, with “Schimmerwoud” probably being my favorite of the bunch, conjuring up images of trudging across desolate Arctic tundra at night, with the way lit only by a full moon and the light of the stars. I actually really appreciate these interludes, even if the sedate droning can feel a little out of place amongst all the black metal; too many atmo-black artists think interludes should consist of playing 3 vaguely frosty-sounding notes on a keyboard for 15 minutes (looking at you, “Rundtgåing”), so it’s great to see a BM artist changing it up by including some actual dark ambient. They're also all very short, with the longest one clocking at 4 minutes, so they don't end up massively overstaying their welcome like some of the aforementioned artists' interludes do.

So why the low rating? Well, even when all is said and done, this is still pretty much a Burzum clone band at heart, and while Visioen van het verborgen land makes for a pretty competent Hvis lyset tar oss worship album, at the end of the day it still doesn’t quite manage to capture the same otherworldliness that that album managed to 25 years ago. Thus, there’s not a whole lot of reason to listen to this while copies of Hvis lyset and other Burzum albums are still floating around, except maybe if you’re really into Burzum worship bands.