Standing before a towering gate hewed out of deep blue, calcified liquid, an unknown wanderer treads with compelled urgency towards a towering edifice. Swirling and caving in on itself, the impossible structure is the final destination of a familiar dream; the bottom of the rabbit hole falling out and exposing a void beyond the void. In the searing mantle separating hell from the unknowable cosmos lies a hospice for Gods, the creation of malevolent demigod Nex Animus. Drowning in phantasmagorical depictions of their own worst fears, the malicious Gods receive punishment in the cells of this hospice, a soul-crushing cleanse that precedes complete dissolution. The unknown wanderer seems to know these cells and the dreadful purpose they serve, but he is undeterred. He has, after all, stood at the end of this hall before, and he will again, for as many times the creator of this nightmare wills it. The red lights of the hospice flare up, as the wanderer enters the exsanguination tunnels.
Thus begins the second installment of Valdrin’s Nex Animus saga, an examination of the dark corridors running beneath the surface of Orcus, the realm at the centre of their Ausadjur mythos. Following ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ (2018), ‘Effigy of Nightmares’ tracks the journey of an unnamed protagonist through this “death hospice”. Whereas ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ was raised on a solid death metal foundation, ‘Effigy of Nightmares’ sheds the low-end to soar over the icy plains of 90’s Scandinavian black metal. Special reverence is paid to the more ambitious and symphonic acts of the era, the complex and theatrical grandeur of mid-period Emperor being the most obvious touch-point. Alongside this ornateness courses the precise and aggressive energy of Swedish melodic black/death metal such as Dissection, acting as a tempering foil. This combination of full-throttle propulsion and sprawling intricacy drives the drama of ‘Effigy of Nightmares’, a brief 30 minute shock of the senses and the mind.
Introducing us to the hospice of Orcus, “Gates of Hospice” is a tension-building soundscape framed by insidious piano lines reminiscent of the soundtrack from The Exorcist (1973). As ritualistic drums spurs the opening of the gates, the soundscape rots away, revealing the unsettling façade of the infirmary of Gods. “Exsanguination Tunnels” immediately barrels forward, piano lines and guitar merging into a hybrid instrument of the Orcus; a tar-black piano forte in the corner of a dismal study. The razor-like tremolo of classic black metal foments bleeding, and the drums beat the sublime minds into submission. The vocals deliver gruesome details with delirious abandon, calling to mind Jon Nödtveidt in one moment and Ihsahn in the next. The first peek into the mind of the Gods themselves is given in the album’s first single “Red Burning Candles of Hatred”. The only song on the album that bears the cloak of death metal first and foremost, “Red Burning Candles of Hatred” is a surging Opeth-ian vortex, a representation of a boiling cauldron of hatred.
Side B of ‘Effigy of Nightmares’ presents the only moment of respite on the record, the narrative interlude “Serpentine Bloodhalls”. The protagonist is urged to move deeper into the snaking hallways by what sounds like Enslaved’s vocalist reciting atop winding acoustic chord progressions. The two final tracks on the album are sonic descriptors of the inner depths of Hosptium Mortis; labyrinthine structures draped in flowing tapestries of arpeggios. Dense and unforgiving, they push the drama relentlessly towards the big reveal at the end of “Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom”. As our protagonist comes closer to realizing his fate, the riffs and keyboards rise incessantly like the towering walls of the oubliette. What transpires at the conclusion of ‘Effigy of Nightmares’ is something to be experienced rather than being explained, as Valdrin have spent 30 minutes building towards an end that will undoubtedly rattle and shake the core of even the casual philosophical dabbler.
‘Effigy of Nightmares’ is a powerful journey however you choose to consume it: As a purely musical experience, an existential horror story, or rather the combined media it is obviously intended to be. A sharp and precise yet expansive black metal document that feels far more vast than its 30 minute runtime signifies, Valdrin have created an album that slots nicely into the lineage of their conjured universe. Kin with ‘Two Carrion Talismans’ yet also a counterpart, the musical minds behind Valdrin are evidently capable of pushing their artistic venture into new directions while simultaneously preserving the core recognizable aspects of their identity. As they close this chapter on their antagonist Nex Animus, the band have stated that they wish to return to the storyline introduced on their debut, ‘Beyond the Forest’ (2014). If you have any interest in conceptually rigorous black metal, this prospect will surely be a thrilling one, as Valdrin have become one of the most consistently engaging peddlers of the form. Drowned in the viscous blood of tortured gods, ‘Effigy of Nightmares’ withholds no details on its plunge into the void beneath the void.
Review by FREDRIK SCHJERVE
High recommendation. 4.5/5.0
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