EREB ALTOR – Vargtimman (2022)REVIEW

Beyond the final warring gasp of man’s ruin within cruelest fimbulvetr so follows the terrible fate of the gods, the catalyst a cosmic-scaled spectacle of cunning wolfen pursuit. The one who mocks and the one who hates end their perpetual chase of sun and sky, devouring the priest of light and the bright bride as an act of inevitable nature — Darkness will celebrate its mayhemic union with light by way of a great bloodied greyness beyond the clash. Hati appears to be freshly in grasp of Mani as “I Have the Sky“, the second single and opening salvo of this ninth full-length from Gävle, Sweden-based epic paganistic folk/black metal quartet Ereb Altor arrives with appropriately charged charisma. A pagan spiritual endtyme-charged epic, ‘Vargtimman‘ is first and foremost notable for its high standard of performance which finds the nigh two decade strong fellowes bard atop the fray in gorgeously layered and distinctively accented song.

The weary metalian will naturally see a project with a long list of eight albums in tow and assume there is little growth available to such a long running ideation, especially that of Quorthonian ‘epic’ pagan metal, backed by some considerable history via these musicians early 90’s spawned spiritual predecessor Forlorn (not the Norwegian one) and some tandem breakthroughs in craft via members leadership in celebrated epic doom metal group Isole. This isn’t the case, though, as Ereb Altor may have had a few clearly visible victories in the past but it was arguably ‘Järtecken‘ (2019) that’d seen the full potential of this idea evolve into a more easily read take and appreciable plateau of black/folk/viking-related craft; Having found a zone of highly professional quality and a refined aesthetic through years of iteration the logical step on the part of ‘Eldens Boning‘ (2020) EP and now ‘Vargtimman‘ is elevation by way of melodious songcraft meant to support stronger feature of vocalist Ragnar‘s cleaner range. Though the first impression of this album might be iteration the keener-eared fan will quickly recognize Ereb Altor using all available tools to achieve bigger emboldened presence by way of memorable pieces presented with increasing finesse.

In generation of epic heavy metal-paced and black metal infused ‘viking’ and Nordic folk inspired work there’ll be no escaping the long-standing suggestion of what possibilities ‘Hammerheart’ introduced and the ‘Nordland’ saga expanded upon within this style of music but, this is more or less the legend of the spark rather than a direct comparison to Ereb Altor‘s modus today. Their style is much more in the realm of the possibilities explored within mid-to-late 90’s black metal and beyond as filtered through the deliberate sensibilities of epic heavy/doom metal patience and Nordic folk melody; Traits shared with prime Falkenbach, the severely underrated ‘Nordheim‘ from Italian outfit Gjallarhorn, and more recent efforts from Lilla Edet-based Fjed. ‘Vargtimman‘ is arguably even more accessible than this, making sure to hit the high standards of fidelity and memorable craft one would expect from groups like Borknagar and Enslaved while still giving us what is essentially a hifalutin epic heavy metal album at its core — the more time I’d spent with it the sooner I’d begin to appreciate this ninth Ereb Altor album in this light.

The aforementioned “I Have the Sky” is an obvious single, its chest-beaten testimonial of conquer and achievement riddled with vivid imagery subtly braced by chorales, empyrean synth and even a bit of organ resting beneath certain melodic statements and the inspired lead guitar break that leads its second half. This gives the impression that Ereb Altor understand that the vocals are extremely important in presentation of performative strengths and building a clear characterization that carries through the full listen. On first impression I’d felt that the Vintersorg-esque vocal techniques that follow-up on the tonality of the opener within the title track presented something all too similar, and to be frank the whispered sections were somewhat annoying, but as I’d mind-mapped ‘Vargtimman‘ it became easier to appreciate that no two songs on the album were too clearly cut from the same cloth; In the past we’ve gotten albums from the band that’ve had one general idea with several songs written in support of said idea but this album seems to take its time in presentation of a novel idea for each piece. That said, you won’t feel as if you’ve stepped into a house of mirrors if you’re an active fan of pagan black metal, viking metal, and folk metal in approach of songs like “Fenris”. Instead the extra outlier points perhaps come from some natural infusion of epic heavy/doom metal influences.

The best parts of ‘Järtecken‘ find their most impressive expansion within the mid-album chapters as we crack into the elaborately achieved dual vocal performances on “Rise of the Destroyer” and Side B‘s brilliant frozen crown “Alvablot”, imbuing the full listen with a tempered version of the operatic flair you’d expect from early 2010’s Borknagar. After countless runs through the ~43 minutes of it all “Alvablot” is the piece that has most consistently called for a re-listen, caught my ear, or featured as the general face of the experience in hindsight and I’d encourage it as a key track in approach. “Ner i Mörkret” offers what I’d consider the most identifiable soul of Ereb Altor days past despite it featuring some of the harder twists and turns on the album, it is perhaps just my sort of late album deeper cut to discover as fealty to the full listen grows but also a good song to crack into some of the interesting character of the band on some of their previous albums. The full listen ultimately had me appreciating the pronounced leap of faith that ‘Järtecken‘ was while also beginning to favor this emboldened vision of ‘Vargtimman‘ which wears its pelt best with fuller range and a neatly tailored listening experience.

After some considerable time spent within the grey-clouded dramatism and heroic apocalyptic downpour of ‘Vargtimman‘ I’d at the very least found some beams of light to break through the nostalgic blinders I’d worn in favoring ‘Nattramn‘ (2015) over the rest of their discography for some time. This seems to be a certain refinement the project has steadily worked towards sustaining for some time and the result is reasonably affecting and often highly memorable when engaged. It might all appear a bit drab and dire upon approach but there is good reason for this, something best understood via some immersion and if Ereb Altor‘s style suits your own taste. This mood is set not only by Tómarúm av Christine Linde‘s artwork but through lyrical themes and the music itself, it feels like an entirely sensible and complete package from a group who’ve more consistently covered all bases in their last decade’s worth of releases. Though it’d required a certain personal readiness to break the ice with this level of personal, spiritually-knotted experience, there is some considerable reward for time spent with any release from these fellowes and this one’d stuck to me well enough. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Hammerheart Records
RELEASE DATE:January 14th, 2022

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