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Under the banner of death, I am alive! - 100%

ezekyle_abaddon, May 14th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Profound Lore Records (Bandcamp)

Full disclosure: Ageless Fire was the most anticipated release on my radar since it was announced in December. The lead single “Jaws of Rapture” made me feel like I was in the Truman Show, as it hit the majority of elements that make up my current tastes in music. Upon first full listen of the record, I knew Vanum had delivered a strong contender for my favourite album of 2019 very early in the year.

Vanum is closely associated with the flourishing Brooklyn black metal scene, despite their members taking up residence in a number of cities in the United States. Members of the band also play in Yellow Eyes, Ash Borer, Predatory Light, and a number of the House of First Light projects. In my opinion, this network is doing the most in underground North American metal right now.

The main aspect that separates Ageless Fire from their previous work—and raises the group to new heights—is the inclusion of traditional metal elements alongside their established conventional black metal sound. There are moments in nearly every track on the album that instantly bring to mind the NWOBHM groups from the mid-70s to early-80s, most notably on the tracks “Under the Banner of Death” and “Ageless Fire”. There are a few choice moments where Vanum almost steps into power metal territory; the intro for the third track “Eternity” channels German heavy metal legends Running Wild. Vanum includes these influences tastefully, and the record remains a cohesion with these elements feeling baked-in rather than awkward inclusions.

Ageless Fire favours clear and powerful production over the murky atmospheric sounds that seem to currently dominate the genre. That being said, the album isn’t lacking in atmosphere, thanks in part to the use of synths throughout. They’re mixed in a way that isn’t overbearing, but just present enough to give the record an epic boost. The guitar tones are tasteful, the bass sits right where it should, and the drums are a commanding force from start to finish. In my opinion, overproduced, overly dominant drums are often the death of good records. On Ageless Fire, Vanum utilizes an organic drum sound that lacks nothing in the power department.

The vocals on Ageless Fire are worth making mention of not for their variety or massive departure from genre conventions, but rather the simple and effective route taken on an album that could have served as a vessel for a number of different vocal approaches. M. Rekevics’ monotonous war cry is consistent throughout the entire album, giving the record stability and lending to the overall cohesion of the work. All this being said, a standard black metal screech likely would have oversimplified a project that is “different” in all the right—but subtle—ways, and utilizing a vocal style that’s typically associated with crustier metal that leans towards the punk side of the spectrum fits the bill here.

Vanum’s previous full length Realm of Sacrifice is a thoroughly enjoyable listen, but on Ageless Fire, the group has really come into their own and carved out a distinct sound that stands apart from their peers in the often generic genre of black metal. It’s an atmospheric record that doesn’t fit squarely into the “atmospheric black metal” subgenre. While the tone is often warlike, Ageless Fire is not at all a “war metal” album. I believe this to be a winning formula; cohesive releases with a variety of influences. Take note!

Written by Kyle Tavares for Umbra Magazine #1 April 2019