Velnias – Scion of Aether (2020)REVIEW

One-eyed, “stupid”, brother of Dievas, a stoic ruler over all souls damned, and an appropriated “devil” status derived from ignorant Christian reinterpretation of ancient Lithuanian mythos — All of it manages to entirely miss out upon the true presence of Velnias who was surely the fate-whirler of all souls but with the important context that no soul was ‘damned’ by eternal death among those ancient peoples. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth included more than just one job for the old demon, the details of which would differ from region to region as often as his name but, the core station is more or less the same. Yes, he ushered souls to the ‘other side’ but with karmic action, a strong sense of justice in mind when deciding upon reincarnation or eternal rest for the departed. A continuous cycle such as this commands no need for ‘heaven’ nor transcendence, though Dievas would continue to laze about in his own empyrean haven, it was a life’s duty to balance good and bad actions with no chance of bartering, worship or prayers to sway the severity of the reaper. This perspective lines up beautifully with the insightful suggestion of the interconnected nature of all life and matter within the universe, where Velnias was intentionally created for (or tasked with) the job of worms, dirt and legacy. Depicted as clumsy idiots more often than stoic deities, these old gods were not company for ancient Balts in the afterlife, but ferrymen for the next life… to be enjoyed on Earth away from ‘Gods’, who were certainly judges, enforcers, fools and tyrants but not masters. Perhaps their name was chosen for the sake of an earthen yet alien daimonian name but Velnias nonetheless embody the wisdom of this old perspective, reborn for a third cycle on the planet with ‘Scion of Aether’ in hand, a grand return from a band thought to have been lost to seemingly ancient times when blackened folk/doom metal theists ruled over all.

Over a mile higher than the sea in Nederland, Colorado Velnias would form as a trio in 2006 undoubtedly influenced by the style developed on the first three Agalloch albums and the rise of newly respected black metal stature within the United States. Though their first demo (‘Pacing the Cyclic Nether‘, 2007) was unexceptional in its time the seeds of rhythm and affect were already clear enough and ripe for distinction enough that the trio’s first album (‘Sovereign Nocturnal‘, 2009) would offer some righteous substance to the far less crowded realm of “Cascadian” styled black/folk and doom notions. Beyond this new found capability for extended and beauteous atmospheric black/doom stretches, Velnias would gain some key insight in creation of those three enormous pieces, these early days of the project would also feature Ascaris (Ævangelist) as bassist. A raw and stumbling piece that is underrated, ‘Sovereign Nocturnal’ just couldn’t hold up next to Velnias‘ impressive second LP, ‘RuneEater‘ (2012), which featured Paul Riedl (Leech, Woodsmoke Records) and Jeff Barrett (Blood Incantation) before they’d form Spectral Voice. This was a great point of refinement for the project and arguably a defining moment that’d lead to greater emphasis on atmospheric values and doom metal pacing for the band moving forward. At this point and going forth it’d not necessarily make sense to point toward Agalloch entirely and instead comparisons should be drawn in the direction of bands with similar spheres of influence or interest, such as The Flight of Sleipnir or Maestus.

In the very center of a nearly eight year wait for a third full-length Velnias would release a single, “Absolution“, featuring Isaac Faulk (Wayfarer, Blood Incantation) on second guitar. This was almost surely an indication of the style found upon ‘Scion of Aether’ but the song did not yet provide a complete depiction of the sound design that elevates their latest record towards the highly listenable and maddeningly dynamic genre-bending feat that it is. Throes is the right place to start, in the throes of Velnias‘ exceedingly detailed compositions lies an entrancement, a profound transcendental feeling of elevation that often jogs in place just for effect. These impressive pieces go where they please stylistically but each (outside of instrumentals) lands somewhere between 9-15 minutes, patting the cairn resultant after each sonnet completes. It isn’t momentum that makes these songs captivating as experiences but their overall sway, an extension of the style found on ‘RuneEater’, where post-rock informs the larger structures they’re built from. Ever-building, lush, and crackling like a campfire lit at the hottest part of the day ‘Scion of Aether’ practically glistens with sweat and flailing hair as its exceedingly ornate guitar passages guide these rural Coloradans toward a realm too sophisticated and resonant to stick into a post-black or black/doom concrete pool. An intense, magickal realm opens within the eerie ritual of each song and even before the sunny licks of 11+ minute opener “Pariah of the Infinite” have ceased it is entirely decided, Velnias have spent their time deliberately in search of this new greater reality they’d create within their third album.

These are not songs you can preview casually, skip through, or get the ‘gist’ of within a quick 30 second spin. The previously described atmo-post-black builds are an essential part of the experience where the mind is slowly lifted by the increasing gait towards the apex of each track. These are not mountains but plateaus of song that sustain without any tragic descent and nowhere is this more true than on “Aurora Rune”, a journey that jangles its lift for seeming days before an eternal corridor of blustering growls gives way to another peaceful walk towards the 6 minute mark; The last three minutes of this song where the guitars traipse along, almost collapsing under their awkward movements until a moment reminiscent of The Flight of Sleipnir‘s ‘Essence of Nine‘ record opens the sky further and reveals an even deeper blue sky beyond. This is probably my personal favorite moment on the record and yet merely one of many great ‘payoff’ moments that ‘Scion of Aether’ provides. “Supernal Emergent” brings some blissful showers of unexpected bass guitar work alongside some equally powerful melodic moments and well, discovering these moments within extended songs and re-listening to them is half the fun of owning a record such as this. It bears repeating, over and over until the climb is either addictive or simply so detailed that it digs its place in the mind and holds the line. The only point of exhaustion for my sensibilities came during a four hour listening session where the end of “Oblivion Horizon – Null Terminus” beyond the ‘main’ song felt superfluous. The fault lies with my own drying patience, though.

There is no denying the ‘epic’ result achieved on this third Velnias full-length, not in the sense that its songs are extended in length but that they create grand, all-consuming experiences uncannily linking dark metal, doom, and folkish black metal into one unique-yet-nostalgic style. There are no ‘easy’ spins through this thing if you are impatient or in a rush for effect and no doubt ‘Scion of Aether’ spends half of its length getting to ‘the point’ in the most electrifying way possible. A very high recommendation from me and undoubtedly a triumphant outing for Velnias after a long and unsure slumber.

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Artist Velnias
Type Full-length
Released March 27, 2020
BUY & LISTEN on Eisenwald’s Bandcamp! Follow Velnias on Facebook
Genre Atmospheric Black/Doom Metal

Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0

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