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Oblique Evil - 86%

Apteronotus, January 21st, 2015

For centuries, sailors have used the strong and steady trade winds to navigate across the Earth’s vast oceans. But these winds have also harbored and driven countless violent storms, wreaking disaster in their paths. If you can ignore a very trite metaphor and imagine the band Vorde as an ominous thunderstorm, then the band’s vocals are the trade winds moving it forward. Menacingly towards you. Black metal’s trademark wall-of-sound can often be thought of as fundamentally cloudy. Reverb saturated tremolo-picking partly hides many individual notes and possibly even the overall structure; leaving you with an atmosphere of mass without form. Vorde is a foreboding black metal band that embraces this overall pattern, but with the unusual addition of having the Atilla-esque vocals directing the band’s destination. Vocalist Aziel drives the band through long-sustained syllables and screeches, which distinctively mold each song with a clear structure. The vocal’s odd tone and varied strata of pitches also deeply enrich the harmony on this self-titled album.

Vocal leadership like this happens more often in traditional metal, but it works wonderfully here to direct the band’s raw energy. Thematically, this also makes the album’s approach to violence rather subdued. Sure, the guitars have a bite to them, but it’s often a creeping and sinuous one. At its most extreme, you can even hear this effect in the aggressive riffing towards the end of “Blood Moon.” Despite the swirling cyclone of notes, the vocals continue to push the song forward and dominate the mix. In this sense, the indigo tinted wall of stabbing knives is a very fitting choice of album art. Vorde’s aggression is an almost abstract consideration, one that is secondary to how the vocals color the mood. This isn’t to say that the vocals are excessive or that they are the only thing of value on the album; quite the contrary.

In particular, the album’s strongly sinister mood relies on the band as an ensemble. While taking cues from traditional black metal, the guitar work also has a heavily diminished-scale influence found in many contemporary bands. However, the guitars never quite delve into the usual dissonant riffing that has become so commonplace, and that keeps the album closer to black metal’s roots. Even with the band’s blatantly idiosyncratic style, Vorde doesn’t quite wander into experimental territories. When you also take into account the band’s occasional vintage science-fiction styled synths (which are actually heavily processed bass and guitar), you get a real understanding of how Vorde has such a classically evil sound. Another large part of the mood is the subdued drumming that shows an understanding of how important the absence of blast beats can be in showcasing riffs. Take for example how the percussion controls the intensity throughout “Crown of Black Flame” ranging from a doomy pace with rattling cymbals to steady double bass with strong backbeat.

Vorde’s overall pacing (but not much else) can be compared to musty-ambient projects like Leviathan, but a more malevolent and conservative version. Any hints of melancholy here are reserved, and almost voyeuristic underneath the ominous atmosphere. You can hear this in the intro to “Blood Moon.” Its unsettling feeling is reminiscent of the first Doom game for SNES, in part from the effects’s retro sound, which is much more enjoyable than the game’s MIDI soundtrack. (The song still successfully recreates the experience of futilely trying to crouch behind a barrel of radioactive waste to hide from a cacodemon.)

Vorde’s self-titled 2014 album is also the band’s first full-length album, and this is an extremely promising start. Sure, there are weaker parts, like how “Transformations of the Vessel” becomes tiresome with the too even 123123 of the main riff, which after a couple of minutes may as well be a Morse code distress signal begging for a change in the rhythm. Overall though, this album strikes a wonderful balance of being fresh and creative, but still conservative enough to avoid being whacky. Even without taking the fantastic vocals into consideration this would be a strong release because Vorde captures a kind of foreshadowing mood that you don’t run across too often. Vorde is obliquely evil black metal, a genuine storm on the horizon.

Originally written for Contaminated Tones.