VORGA – Striving Toward Oblivion (2022)REVIEW

When Vorga submitted ‘Radiant Gloom‘ for review back in early 2019 I was admittedly a bit hesitant if only for complimentary reasons. Such ambitious and professionally rendered melodic black metal acts tend to eventually make uninteresting concessions for the sake of commercial appeal as they soldier on into broader markets, this is especially true as atmospheric black metal and post-black metal ‘innovation’ continues to act as strong attenuation to both attack and melodic expression in the average case study. Though I’ve always been the ‘wait and see‘ type before getting too excited about a band’s trajectory, in the case of these Karlsruhe, Germany-based fellowes and their debut full-length ‘Striving Toward Oblivion‘ I’ve got to say an incredible amount of foundational fealty is paid to the past while the quartet presents decidedly modern value rich statements within the artform/sub-genre apropos realm. To be blunt as possible, the infectiously lain guitar melodies that carry this record are certainly worth a shit and they attack their cause like a black metal band inarguably should, with unmerciful tact.

In my review of that first EP shades of early 2000’s Immortal and a bit of post-‘BloodhymnsNecrophobic bombast were useful descriptions of where Vorga were headed circa 2019, a thrashing yet distinctly Scandinavian edged sound, yet the melodic voicing of those pieces hadn’t fully blossomed. The fully refined vision as it expresses now finds them in rising equivalency with similarly minded bands a la Wormwood (Sweden), Netherbird and Thron — modern and somewhat atmospheric revisions of melodic black metal freed from the compressed vacuum of sound which tends to dominate the modern meloblack experience. While we are in fact gifted an album as professional and modern as implied in company with those other groups, ‘Striving Toward Oblivion‘ finds Vorga straying just a bit closer to the heart of what’d made melodic black metal an inspirational advent in the early-to-mid 90’s rather than further away. Faster and decidedly intricate strings of riffs aren’t always at the forefront of any given piece, certainly not as memorable as the lead melodies flitting atop them, but the ‘heavy metal’ riff in fluid black metal context is not lost upon these folks.

Ripping straight into the tremolo driven melody of opener “Starless Sky” Vorga give the listener exactly the energy and inhumane urgency necessary to catch even the eldest pair of ears with worthy attack. The guitar tone here rides a fine line between a thousand-layered sheet of thunder and an actual organic guitar split into countless tracks, it is not as nostalgically cutting in the same way ‘Hinsides Vrede‘ was a couple of years ago but the effect is similarly engaging. Thanks to some of the deepest hills and valleys available in terms of melodic unfold it is undeniable as the best choice for a starting point with “Comet” soon taking things in a steadier, mid-paced direction to better convey the space-faring atmospheric vision ‘Striving Toward Oblivion‘ leads with. Some additional musing over the tempo map on pieces like “Disgust” and “Taken” features admirable kicking between blasts, double-bass jogging, gallops, and scherzo for the sake of the melodic/atmospheric hybridization at the heart of Vorga‘s intensifying style but no doubt modern melodic death metal fandom will hear these nuanced progressions and their stellarly uplift as exactly their sort of lilt. The major train of thought to be gleaned here is that this record is quite accessible and not a ragged-toothed beast, there is a glorious and comfortable radiance to be experienced when left on repeat.

So, if you’ve whipped down to check the verdict/scoring on this record you’ll have wondered what sets it apart from the norm. Finest packaging and art direction, an entirely unique aesthetic, strong recording fidelity and a very well developed vision of modern melodic black metal all stacks up but it’d have all rested in a comfortably above-average spot in my mind palace just short of greatness if not for the luxury of having plenty of time to mull over. After a week of exposure and about two days silent distance from ‘Striving Toward Oblivion‘ I’d found myself in a state of exhaustion best described as “too tired to sleep” wherein the body is so conscious of its limit that it cannot pull the plug, while staring at the texture of the ceiling nearby 4:00am the lead guitar melody to major Side B standout “Last Transmission” darted into mind. Call it delirium or simply the natural effect of such a strong hook, Vorga had wormed into mind and inspired much in the same way some of my favorite melodic black/death metal acts have over the years. This ultimately counts for something, building fandom and fealty through memorable works which are impressive beyond style alone.

The other piece I’ll offer a bit of cerebral gush over is “Fool’s Paradise”, one of the more intricate songs on the album with its own galloping heavy metal upswing as the main riff develops. I’m not sure if the song’s construction is a bit more early Old Man’s Child than it is 90’s Dissection but it’d been a moment on the album that’d suggested Vorga have even more distinct pathways to explore in the future beyond the big melodic reveals of songs like “Starless Sky” and “Last Transmission”. This more or less leads into my final bit of endorsement here wherein I’d found ‘Striving Toward Oblivion‘ held up well within casual listening and with rapt attention applied, a technically impressive construct which rarely feels robotic or too callous. This is a tough balance to get right out of the gates, much less carry an almost wholly memorable experience within. With that said I wouldn’t say this is a perfect melodic black metal experience for my own tastes as I’d prefer less of the cinematic rhythm guitar guidance and more of an aggressive riff-centered attack to emphasize those strong leads but, sure, that’d probably be a whole other band. A very high recommendation, not only to fans of melodic black metal’s atmospheric-edged spheres but also modern melodic death metal fans.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Striving Toward Oblivion
LABEL(S):Transcending Obscurity Records
RELEASE DATE:February 4th, 2022

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