VETER DAEMONAZ – Muse of the Damned (2022)REVIEW

A night-bound mirage borne from fading internal light and the suffocating flurries of the northern extremes St. Petersburg, Russia-borne black metal trio Veter Daemonaz have spent over a decade honing their own clearest windowpane into the world of elite black metal in leading up to this debut full-length release. Built upon traditions of tragedian expression deeply ingrained within classic Slavic black metal style ‘Muse of the Damned‘ manages something readably regional yet avoidant of typified trappings by distinct enough channels dug by their own will. Though a cursory ride through first impressions may not yield something “new” outside of tradition we are yet graced with an experience brimming with cold, pensive character of its own when afforded an attentive listener — the righteous calling card of a group who’d put in their dues, needled over a greater vision before finally landing their grand entrance.

Veter Daemonaz set into motion as a solo venture circa 2009, taking their time in development of basal songcraft with consideration for all four moving parts being handled by I.S.M. whom managed a fantastically raw three song demo (‘MMX‘, 2013) that’d made it to CD-r a couple years beyond completion. The momentum was slow from that point yet the results always thoughtful as the artist was clearly working towards a high standard rather than rushing in, carving their own point of view rather than plainly imitating the classics of raw Russian/Slavic black metal. As far as I have gathered a crew of three would form in 2014 and soon get to work on their first official release, which ended up landing on a split LP (‘Vade Retro Sonnenlicht‘, 2015). Their first non-split related EP (‘Триvмф‘, 2017) had developed their sound considerably, shifting toward what I’d read as heavily influenced by the late 90’s output of Blazebirth Hall (or similar) groups, specifically Forest but also the first few Old Wainds releases around that same time for the sake of the abrasive yet beauteous phrasing of those guitarists. The only real point of genius on that release for my own taste was the final piece (“Trivmph”) for its grand sense of movement, setting it apart from the rest of their songwriting at that point.

That’d been the end of their original line-up with I.S.M. re-staffing the rhythm section with members of Doomsday Cult and Serpentrance and quickly moving on with them, soon releasing three key items in the build-up towards their debut. The first impression Veter Daemonaz made upon me couldn’t have been more ideal between their ‘Антилогос‘ 7″ via destructive Polish label Putrid Cult and their contribution to a Katharsis tribute album “Lunar Castles (Harvest)“. Between those two releases they’d made a serious case for more as their sound began to shift towards something Mgła-esque in its gravel toned pulse on a split with Lashblood beyond that point. If some thoughtful development of a majestic Slavic black metal sound was all there’d been to enjoy here that’d probably been enough to impress me, in case you need an idea of where I stand with this style of music in general. In fact I think that’ll be all many folks will need to enjoy ‘Muse of the Damned‘ as a debut, though I believe there is more than typically satisfying style notes and a “promising” showing to appreciate here once we’ve gotten waist deep in their gusting, steadily kicking motions.

Veter Daemonaz haven’t simply crapped out a handful of soppy majestic-core variations on a theme but it will probably feel like it as you dive in and begin to parse the voicing of the guitar work versus the brutality of the rhythm section and vocals. In this sense the experience as a whole has implied itself by the time we’ve leaned into the sentimental groaning of the appreciably melodic rhythm guitar work on “The Conqueror’s Crown” but this comes as an early highlight, not yet fully extrapolating where exactly the record will go from that point of snow-drifting, beauteous ode to Death. I say this because the pivotal piece which bisects the album, “Triumph”, is an jangly instrumental with a wintry heavy metal dance at its peak, providing the first of a few unexpected and perhaps characteristic moments that set I.S.M.‘s vision apart from the usual tact and emotionally driven craft we find in upper-grade Slavic black metal.

Though I didn’t find the typically featured point of the second track (“Under the Banners of Night”) in the running order evocative beyond its steadily aggressive pace and easier-grooving refrains to start, the piece does serve to set overall expectations for riffcraft and the guitarist’s intended dynamic within the rhythmic focus of ‘Muse of the Damned‘. The flit between emotive voice and droning world-shaper is deliberate when said transition does happen and this means a full listen to this record lands somewhere between sophistication and a more distempered aggression. With that said I found the ‘over the top’ aspect which I’d appreciated from their earlier works and a really fine treatment of Katharsis a few years back wasn’t necessarily pushing into raw and crazed realms here, this makes for a professional and readable result nonetheless.

Closing Side A with a certain bass riff/melody in mind and having it exploded into form at the outset of Side B with lead single (shorter version in preview, though) “Moon Sorcery” waking the experience into a more frenzied state of expression at a crucial point in the full listen. At this point you’ll have noticed the strong bass guitar tone, loud enough to prominently back the rhythms with a slightly percussive thump to its heavier hits yet not so destructive that it overtakes the drummer’s presence, this is key as Veter Daemonaz lean into the slower, despondent sections of certain songs but still allows both the sentimental and chaotic stretches of their sound to land in focus. I personally enjoy the more aggressive, plodding spectrum of their tempo map, which we find on the venomous “The Sun into the Kingdom of the Blind” which I’d found to be the aggressive peak statement of the album, though the guitar work receives another adept melodic touch within “The Thread” before it ends. Bookending the listening experience with the first and second parts of “The Muse of the Damned” doesn’t generate a too-obvious motif, since that’d be somewhat redundant if you’d been listening on repeat but we are phased in and out of the Nordic wilderness at the starting and endpoint of the full listen, a simple way to generate atmosphere which feels experiential and suggests the listener reflects as the final silence settles in.

There is some manner of turmoil, or, internalized rot expulsed in the events of ‘Muse of the Damned‘ which I cannot fully comment on ’til I’ve gotten ahold of the lyrics and this is actually a pretty key component of I.S.M.‘s work based on past releases so, there remains plenty to glean from the experience beyond the enjoyable, oft inventive full listen herein. Though I’ve zero qualms with the production values and general sound design, and besides the whole point to be made about this being an unexpectedly thoughtful and melodic work rather than an insane wracking of the ear as expected, Veter Daemonaz have left me feeling like they’re not exactly done with the statement of this work, that there is more to divulge on future releases. The major point to make here in appreciation of ‘Muse of the Damned‘ is that this was the exact right point in the band’s development beyond 2017 to make their full-length debut, as it is clear they’d had to fight it out a bit to get there and have had plenty of time and thought put into crafting a work that leaves a considerable dent within both the physical and spiritual being. It isn’t catchy or quirky pop metal in any sense, and that means you won’t be humming these complex rhythms to yourself anytime soon, but the fixation of the full listen has yet held up brilliantly on my part. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Muse of the Damned
LABEL(S):Osmose Productions
RELEASE DATE:June 24th, 2022

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