Complex and unfamiliar depths waiting in the midst of ‘easier’ options appear even more daunting once the scab is picked and the river of blood reveals a deeply reeking infection beneath. Such is the case when procrastinating my approach of Cincinnati, Ohio black metal druids Valdrin. Their music twisted and multifarious in its collective gnarl and their underground past equally rich, no doubt I initially spent more time on the hunt for understanding than I did basking in the glory of ‘Two Carrion Talismans’, hence needing more time to absorb their collective history and this second mysterious tome. The main thread comes with musician Carter Hicks who shifted his ‘4 of a Kind’ by way of Venom thrash project Viravoid towards the 90’s styled semi-melodic European darkness of Dawn of Wolves. From 2010 on Hicks‘ compositions have become first highly progressive and now increasingly technical under the Valdrin banner. Upon first strike Valdrin as a melodic and heavily symphonic black metal project recalling the early works of Ancient and Limbonic Art with a mildly precocious use of melody and an attack unafraid to touch upon death metal intensity when needed. With their debut unfocused and of little (surface) value beyond retro intrigue, there was no clamoring from my own crypts for more Valdrin in 2014.
With four years to plot, and three with new second guitarist Colton Deem (Lucis Absentia), Valdrin reappear scarred and well ready for their second chapter. This time around the methodology is not only more polished but, the death metal aspects garner some comparison to the curious staggering obscurae of ‘Prometheus – The Discipline of Fire & Demise’. The lyrical concept that drives Valdrin is similarly high-concept as it follows the experiences of protagonist Valdrin Ausadjur, a dagger wielding, apocalypse conjuring, cosmic tyrant. I will have to wait for the lyrics to materialize to know the full story but each song has a subtitle elucidating some of the plot. The first album focused on Ausadjur as a sort of world eater, as far as I can figure; ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ seems to portray him as a seeker of a cosmic afterlife or some greater reality beyond known existence. I’ll have to feign general ignorance on the details here but I appreciate when bands go to the trouble of creating their own lore and themes rather than relying on well-scudded tropes. Even if I am way off with any interpretation, there is some great value in a black/death metal album that can inspire some imagination.
Where I am slightly less inspired is within a few referential details that only serve to misdirect some of the immersion this twisted and symphonically-tinged black/death metal record creates. The opener “Junnatox” drops in a beautiful keyboard/synth riff that will be immediately familiar to Old Man’s Child oglers. In context with the rest of the album it creates the right mood but as the introduction to the album consistently wrestles in some riffs heavily inspired by Emperor‘s most chaotic apices, the back of my mind groans at the prospect of throwback symphonic black metal cheese. ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ doesn’t fully go there and my trepidation is met with ropy, spastic occult black/death riffs as the dominant force in Valdrin‘s world. My hesitation stems from nostalgic association and though first impressions were made rough from these mental connections, Valdrin are not peddling thoughtless Norwegian Casio-keyboard smut. With some less reactive consideration this melange of old and new black, death and thrashing elements is indicative of the ethos employed in the project’s themes where a collective ‘knowledge’ serves as the true mutant afterlife of humanity.
If my feelings on ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ convey anything it is hopefully the mystification involved with the experience. The mildly vexing meaning and mystery is oddly valuable to some extent but the guitar work is of greater interest. Eschewing previously predictable forms for winding channels of chaotic flow creates a less memorable experience but a thrill in the moment if you can manage immersion. So, in a style closer to old Vesperian Sorrow, Diabolical Masquerade and recent Subliritum yet, the guitar work itself unfortunately doesn’t transcend to the level of a band like Nightbringer. There is some worthy value in the 90’s referenced melodic cushion employed, but I didn’t find enough focus in Valdrin‘s overall musical statement for it to be memorable. ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ appears as a transitional record in many respects with an intentionally in-between sub-genre blending style that isn’t entirely distinct despite how professional and intentioned the performances are. If you aren’t overly familiar with the genres represented here then by all means dismiss the blithering nonsense I’ve come up with so far; ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ could be a worthwhile introduction to many inspirational textures and I’d suggest picking this up along with ‘The Cainian Chronicles’ as well as Vargrav‘s latest. My own mild fumblings aside, I would generally recommend this record to old symphonic black metal fans that also crossover with occult blackened death metal interests; This will be a satisfying balance and a redeeming challenge to suss out.
Call forth the indignant carapace. 3.5/5.0
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