The well-developed and inherently perfected quality of Edinburgh, Scotland based duo Valaraukar‘s debut is the product of a series of formative lessons learned, and style developed, between guitarist/vocalist Vagath and the handful of like-minded musicians he’s been able to gel with across the past decade. Blackened death metal act Nerrus Kor would spring up north in Perth and end up kicking around a solid EP before they kicked the bucket in 2013. From there Vagath would form Nolti Nan Gana Nan Nolta (later NNGNN) and here the shared love of early extreme metal would birth ‘Death by the Venomhammer’ (2014) EP; The title alone should indicate the traditional black metal style they’d achieved. By 2015 the four musicians involved had split into three parts: One member went on to form black/speed metal project Venomwolf, the other formed occult black metal act Lunar Mantra, and the remaining two (Vagath and Sovereign) continued on with NNGNN‘s last recording ‘Forceful Blasphemy’ in 2016. This was essentially the proof of concept for Valaraukar under the old name and every aspect of that sound is blood related to their craft under the new moniker. These balrog of Udûn had seen their peers go in two extreme directions, one ultra modern and the other ultra traditional but there is some beauty in what Valaraukar had routed for themselves on the ‘Harnessing of Hostile Forces‘ (2018) demo in the sense that it was a cyclone of influences old and new, a less purely referential path forward that has ultimately proven far more valuable for its compositional skills and glowingly timeless style. ‘Demonian Abyssal Visions’ is a meaningful thread that’d stretch confidently from 1984 ’til 2019 plucking a fine array of influence along the way.
The only crystal clear influence to the layman’s ears will be the mid-80’s cadence of Tom G. Warrior within Vagath‘s vocal delivery where he doesn’t so much sing or rasp in the traditional black metal sense but instead finds an echoing ‘superior’ tone similar to early Celtic Frost or certain Cronos performances. The rhythms of Valaraukar are not entirely modernist but they do often follow extended structures that’ll feel somewhat like classic Inquisition for their atmospheric flourishes and building complexities. Where the experience becomes gloriously difficult to pin down and speak of comes with their amalgamation of classic early second wave Scandinavian black metal guitar riffs which they use as a palette to pull from in creation of what is essentially epic heavy metal. The result is somewhat like post-‘Blizzard Beasts’ Immortal in spirit but twisted away from such an eager, performative space. Where I found mastery in this mixture of first and second wave black metal modus was in the constant feeling that they were riding the edge of collapse. Throughout the whole experience the pace is fairly consistent in its range but the momentum always appears in danger of collapse. That weighted, forward leaning movement creates a ‘classics’ inspired signature for Valaraukar, who capably command their unison.
Truth be told the initial thrill of ‘Demonian Abyssal Visions’ was the sort of muscular presence and depth of atmosphere but it quickly became a mental exercise on my own part as I tried to discern where the major hints to their influences might lie and I think it was such a confounding exercise because the vocals are such an ancient, stubborn reference that threw me off of the trail. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the hell out of Valaraukar‘s debut but that I had to resign to some modern developments in ‘orthodox’ Norwegian black metal and some hints of late 90’s Swedish black/death metal in figuring the core appeal of the experience. There are some tonal similarities with recent records from Whoredom Rife and Djevel in terms of the production, guitar sound, and the pure black metal side of the riffs but, the way they’ve toyed with rhythms throughout is nearly kin to the cosmos explored by recent Carpe Noctem or Slidhr albums. It isn’t necessarily a wild exploration of dissonance or grand melody but, certainly on that same level of capability when developing such an array of ideas from one core sound and approach.
That’d be my only real issue with the album is that it is one ‘epic’ told in six parts through a strong ‘variation on a theme’ undertaking. The hardest hitting tracks upon introduction, such as standout “The Unassailable Throne”, only appear to do so because of their ordering and many of them flow together even when placed out of order. The style employed is enough of a fail-safe built into the record that allows it to maintain a memorable personality but it might not ultimately be enough for those seeking more pronounced variation or any grand stretch outside of the opening handful of songs. I pretty much loved it from the first listen and had worn it out after a few dozen spins. The vocals are a powerful vessel for the dark imagery that’d normally be obscured in by a typical black metal rasp; Their ‘cleaner’ presence works incredibly well with the more modern guitar work and as I’d suggested prior it connects several generations of extreme metal in an effective way, as if ‘Morbid Tales’-era Celtic Frost were performed by Season of Mist-era Inquisition. The caveat is that the songwriting all bleeds together with little more than a handful of riffs to differentiate. They’re big riffs, though and “Servants of the Nameless”, “The Unassailable Throne”, and “Harnessing of Hostile Forces” house the most impact while the rest of the tracks rely on clever intricacy to stand out.
‘Demonian Abyssal Visions’ is an easy recommendation for its rousing depth and dark sound but it’ll take the sort of person who worships ‘To Mega Therion’ as much as they might Blaze of Perdition. I’m of that ilk and as such I can give very high recommendation for Valaraukar‘s debut, it is confidence embodied and fully brimming with powerful riffs if nothing else. For preview I’d suggest “The Unassailable Throne” and “Servants of the Nameless” as the two songs that immediately sold me on repeating initial full listens.
Lawlessness of the abyss. 4.25/5.0
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