Vargrav – Netherstorm (2018) REVIEW

For all of the damage done to keyboard-heavy black metal in the new millennium a small army of modern artists have found great inspiration in the more tasteful work of the era. From Akhlys‘ unique harness of chaos on ‘The Dreaming I’ to Lychgate‘s modern integration within forward thinking atmospheric black metal it seems black metal can easily escape the cartoonish glow left behind by the Dimmu Borgir led collapse of the keyboardist noir. Even still a very small number of bands truly pull influence from the early brilliance of Emperor and Limbonic Art as well as Finnish black metal stalwart Vargrav. One of many self-directed projects by Ville Pallonen (aka V-Khoz) Vargrav represents a dedication to the fidelity and atmospherics of early ‘symphonic’ inclined melodic black metal without the circus tents or Dissection-isms interference.

‘Netherstorm’ elevates the melodic and atmospheric potential of Limbonic Art‘s efforts on ‘Moon Over the Scorpio’ and creates an equally menacing and ethereal black metal landscape. The layered synth blankets a chilling layer of black metal guitar work that integrates multifarious influences from Scandinavia’s finest melodic and aggressive history. The goal here is clearly to permeate Emperor‘s  ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ and add new frozen layers to it’s legacy and Vargrav have done an impeccable job of taking that influence and not interpreting it so literal that their music is rote. In fact much of ‘Netherstorm’ has heightened atmospherics and a lengthier attention span for melodic guitar work.

Albums like ‘Netherstorm’ have great appeal beyond nostaligic folks who were, like me, partially indoctrinated into extreme metal by Emperor. The initially blurry atmosphere of Vargrav’s carefully leveled sound offer enough of a challenge that repeated listening offers growth over time. The melodic nuance of V-Khoz’ guitar work shows a great alternative to modern atmospheric black metal’s reliance on post-rock/shoegaze guitar techniques and reasserts the power of arpeggiated riffing second wave black metal was initially known for. Because I have spent so much time over the past six months studying melodic black metal and it’s complete early history I find a lot of the guitar work on this album mindfully variant and far less derivative of Ihsahn/Samoth interplay than most. ‘Netherstorm’ is a fantastic effort that pays tribute to, and enhances, the original visionaries of the sound that influenced Vargrav’s powerful atmospheric style of black metal.

NOTE: Vinyl versions typically include the ‘The Glory of Eternal Night’ 7″ single which includes a cover of Emperor‘s “Ancient Queen”. 


Artist Vargrav
Type Album
Released January 26, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on their Bandcamp! Follow Vargrav on Facebook

Ensorcelled by cosmic frost. 3.75/5.0

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