VANUM – Legend (2022)REVIEW

The ceaseless vaunting of the vainglorious rings cold upon the defeated, a beaten chest acting to doubly strengthen the feel-good bromides achieved in victory by those glowering over an age of achingly nihilistic mental atrophy with a willful and stridently stated boast of empowerment. Grit your brattling teeth if you must, joining our heroes in their own rousing song of the endtyme champion at the gloaming fizzle of western civilization may very well be the shared resolve needed to tarry on living ’til the next boot finds your neck. You’ll more than likely find some sustenance in taking on the spirit of the survivor, thee conqueror of hardship as Santa Fe, New Mexico/New York, New York-based black metal troupe Vanum boasts louder-still the fuming spiritus of arrogantly majestic black metal on this, their third and most righteously alight full-length album. In truth, ‘Legend‘ is less a manner of planting a fresh flag upon the piled-up dead to mark themselves commander-in-mortem and more a jogging bout of heavy metal fortitude delivered to the undeserving public by way of gorgeously slithering black metal finesse.

Aligned by their similarly-guided journeys on the road and within various houses of prime atmospheric black metal, Vanum likely formed in mind just beyond 2010 or so when a brilliantly paired split between K. Morgan‘s Ash Borer and M. RekevicsFell Voices made it clear they’d some compatible intent in terms of black metallic voice; This’d developed into a working relationship by at least 2014 or thereabouts. Though this was an era of peaking ‘second wave’ Cascadian atmoblack omnipresence in the well-suffocated underground, a font of inspiration each artist had long developed their own voice within. Think along the lines of post-‘Pale Folklore‘ attuned ears discovering Drudkh‘s ‘Forgotten Legends‘ and Wolves in the Throne Room‘s ‘Diadem of 12 Stars‘ as we consider triumphal predecessor-ship to said generational decline. Vanum were arguably not immediately so set apart from past works in terms of style from the outset but a combined mindset providing a wisened take that’d been notably professional, having learned some key lessons between ‘Cold of Ages‘ and ‘Regnum Saturni‘, as is evidenced by their debut full-length (‘Realm of Sacrifice‘, 2015). For my own taste it was their ‘Burning Arrow‘ EP from 2017 that’d begin to pick up on the heroic poignancy that’d soon set the project apart from past lives and it’d surely counted for something that their aesthetic was developing with a fairly sophisticated standard in mind.

With their second and certainly best received full-length at that point ‘Ageless Fire‘ (2019) the signature Vanum sound and style was readied in mind and enacted with an expected level of precision, an idyllic blueprint achieved somewhere between triumphally stated atmospheric black metal and combative epic heavy metal bombast, eh, without going full on ‘At the Heart of Winter‘ nor ‘Triarchy of the Lost Lovers‘, mind you. From that highest point the extensive work that they’ve put into ‘Legend‘ seems to have been concerned with refining this idea unto its most brilliant, most communicative potential and easing away the harried, ‘Nattens Madrigal‘-esque raggedness of that release’s rawest edges in a transformation that echoes similarly focused continuum from groups like Mgła and to some degree Ultha, despite choosing to wield what I would consider a more classically romanticist black metal spirit. Perhaps this is a welcome symptom of pandemia and the nature of delays throughout the industry but it sounds like they’ve had quite a lot of time to consider and develop this album into their best yet, still bearing the rawness of black metal to some degree but approaching it with a Quorthonian “heavy metal” firesword in hand rather than leaning into beauteous post-black movements. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not the tag “epic atmospheric black metal” suggests the right mood and execution found here but either way, this is brilliant work and a glorious next step beyond the already very fine ‘Ageless Fire‘.

“Adversary” bites the unwitting ankle of anyone within earshot around ~1:08 minutes in, its poison fanged snap bending and trilling through a lead which’ll deliver one of the more memorable guitar hooks on the record. It’d be a sort of humble, almost understated sort of playing-it-cool atmoblack thrill enough to carry the song well enough yet the use of keyboard/synth creates a sort of serious, again, triumphal tone which is the first sign of ‘Legend‘ presenting far more detailed composition than ‘Ageless Fire‘ in some regard yet working with a hundred subtleties rather than a barrage of big ideas. “The Gate and the Key” logically follows with similarly set tone yet more elaborate rhythmic voicing, raising the keyboards to more directly compliment the rhythms and getting right to the empyrean waft of Vanum‘s version of epic black metal, a billowing sort of lightning struck violence which stretches far from the meaty clash of the battlefield for its most sky-bound sonnets. Most of ‘Legend‘ manages to transcend time a bit, a ~45 minute record which feels like 35 for the sake of its immersive sleekness, but these first couple of songs echo a long, drawn out battle to begin, making their mark by remaining “locked in” for those initial fifteen minutes or so. It is an easy pace and an accessibly lush sound to follow, all the more reason to ride along right from the start.

“Frozen in Vile Illumination” and the Hellenic black metal inspired shuddering of its verse riffs was a major yank of the ear on my part, a sort of gear locking into place wherein the machine shifts into something more than what Vanum had done on their previous recordings. The first third of ‘Legend‘ was already a bit more artfully atmospheric but not a fully new portal opened just yet, here we find some additionally stylized guitar-forward touches which speak louder to their interpretations of classic forms through the ages and with their own more elaborate, ‘modern’ sense of phrase. It guides us into the yet unknown realms of Side B with some great confidence that there are a few more surprises to behold in the final two pieces. “Legend” serves as both the big hurrah in kicking off the albums second half and its major statement piece, swords raised and whatnot, in this sense it serves an arguably bigger apex than the solemn and thoughtfully set 14+ minute finale of “Beneath the Pillars of Earth and Air”, essentially the third-ascendant chapter of this saga. Though I hadn’t fixated upon the shared value of “Frozen in Vile Illumination” / “Legend” back-to-back as the crux of the record to start, being stuck on “Adversary” and the impressive scene it’d set, the duo did eventually become the vital pocket of the listening experience beyond the first several listens, or, the most illustrative set of pieces that’d ultimately unlock the mood and the vision of how ‘Legend‘ would reveal.

The gist of my noodling about here is that Vanum have impressed with a work which finds greater precision, a certain personalized definition of their vision for the sake of effect and invoking a concept which now amounts more than a simple combination of ideas and ideals. ‘Legend’ is less a cool take on a certain shade of black metal and instead a fully considered production which should hit most listeners as a subtle wave which resonates more over time, a gathering storm of sorts. Precedence without replication impresses herein, in the sense that anyone who’d enjoyed ‘Ageless Fire‘ will acknowledge relational traits in terms of arrangement and already developed pacing/concept but find a stately re-attunement of Vanum‘s presentation via heavy metal throughout. It’ll be the album to ultimately catch the ear of a broader audience whom appreciate unbowed and more spiritedly vigilant side of black metal, or, at least on my part it is the first release from the band to leave me feeling like it’d left a dent or made a grand impression that’d been redeeming for quite a few listens. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records,
RELEASE DATE:April 22nd, 2022

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