VORBID – A Swan by the Edge of Mandala (2022)REVIEW

Trial by catatonic fear completes the “mind-made” body. — To live without interactivity and human connection would be both mortal and psychic wound to the passionately stated exuberance of Arendal, Norway-based conceptually guided progressive thrash metal quartet Vorbid, who’d not necessarily intended to end up exactly where they are today, a full leap and bound beyond previously noted potentiation. Arriving upon the lucid evolutionary spectacle of their second full-length album without going too heartily with the flow, these young fellowes wield ‘A Swan by the Edge of Mandala‘ as the impressive result of astute learning, creative freedoms embraced, and potential extracted in reaction to otherwise stymying solitude. Within the thrilling epiphany brought to light herein a deep-seated fear of communication breaking down between the individual and their reality becomes the hinge for chest-thumping dramatist exposition, a thoroughly entertaining extroverted divination of the introverted self away from anxietous mortal instincts, or, in process of them.

Vorbid introduced their style of (then) fairly staunch, ‘old school’ influenced progressive thrash metal to the world in an interesting enough way, releasing a music video for their first single “Violation of a Human Mind” circa 2015. I guess that might seem like a normal-ass thing to do but not typically for such a young crew and in a style of music which rarely tends to “put itself out there”, so to speak, and especially that early on since they’d formed in 2013. Their early songwriting featured a high level of proficiency, a rhythmic knack braced by Megadeth and Forbidden influences as the band secured a space between late 80’s prog-thrash reeling, Bay Area aggression and the then still maturing wave of technical and progressive thrash metal inspired by the popularity of Vektor and nearby acts. They weren’t writing catchy songs, though, and almost exclusively relied upon novel rhythms for interest. As we consider their still green underground debut EP (‘Vorbid‘, 2016) and the leap ahead found on their full-length debut (‘Mind‘, 2018) it becomes clear why Vorbid‘d quickly piqued the interest of thrash-lovin’ ears abroad, even if it meant folks did nothing but complain about the shrieking vocal style vocalist/guitarist Michael Eriksen lead with on those first two releases. There is of course plenty of both historical and current precedence for this type of vocal in thrash metal and this’ll ring especially true when considering the complete history of technical/progressive thrash and the sub-genre’s common feature of power metal, heavy rock, and extreme metal vocalists (or, folks capable of each). /end rant… The writing should be on the wall at this point for the keen-eyed, the capable folks in Vorbid would inevitably turn the way of progressive metal and away from classicist thrash at some point, but, I suppose I wasn’t prepared for this second album to be it, and for the results to be this pro this fast.

Drop the battle vest, kick off the hi-tops, put on a turtleneck or some shit. — Many progressive metal influenced thrash metal bands imply narrative, dictate loose storyboard, and deliver vague (usually politically charged paranoiac) prose to shape and color their ideas, creating impressionistic or moderne abstraction in representation of scene or conundrum. Others over-write these scenes into tedium, distracting from any potential profundity with maximal abstraction and coloration, or, more often without producing any sort of musical feature or highlight at all. With ‘A Swan by the Edge of Mandala’ Vorbid use all available resources, including talented session bassist Stian Gundersen (Blood Red Throne) and producer Endre Kirkesola (Communic, Green Carnation), to reach their narrative goal within reasonable yet exaggerative pieces which veer between abstract prose, some of it out of body symbolism and some of it descriptive of feeling trapped in body. The effect is not stark in overall contrasting points of view per the ~59 minute runtime but anyone sitting with the lyrics and feeling the general vibe of the record in earnest should quickly pick up on these shifts in tone as dramatic yet fully internalized events.

Naming mid 70’s Genesis, late 90’s Dream Theater, and Steven Wilson as key influences for the music and the lyrical concept, which comes from guitarist Daniel Emanuelsen, Vorbid plunge into catatonia as method and mindset in conveying fearful, emotional wracking (hopelessness, grief, anxiety) provided by solitude. The inability to communicate with the outside world, becoming muted by paralysis or dementia, and becoming a “silent spectator” is a very specific fear and an interesting one to depict in such a painterly way yet a closer look reveals some reasonably deep exploration of modern spirituality, a realization of ill-fitting interconnectedness, and some confrontation of the ‘self’. Writing the music and lyrics in tandem seems to have contributed to Vorbid‘s ability to illustrate the sensation of entering and exiting states of fear-stoked existentialism, presenting perceptive blockage from the outside world with vocal variance, usually highlighting shifts between modern prog metal and the more aggressive, angularly waltzed-out thrash metal bursts otherwise. Think of the juxtaposition naturally occurring in feeling and precedence but outrageous in hindsight, as if ‘Terminal Redux‘ were performed by ‘Coal‘-era Leprous. “The title track in “Union” paired with “Paradigm” illustrates this stylistic simpatico most heartily but the lyrical themes and compositions are more clearly intertwined, depictive within standout pieces “Ex Ante” and “Derealization”.

At this point it should become clear that this is less an album for the die-hard thrasher dabbling in prog-thrash historicity (a Psychotic Waltz fan wouldn’t be put off, I suppose) and moreso a record suited for the well-versed progressive metal fan who appreciates the modern evolution/revival of prog (and tech)-thrash beyond the mid-to-late 2000’s (see Droid, Vexovoid, etc.) Yet Vorbid‘s guitarists have made sure each piece is stacked with plenty of riffs, all manner of rhythm guitar interest and a good ratio of clean and harsh vocals that’ll please extremists and broad-minded folks alike. The first fifteen minutes of the record, including opener “Ecotone” and “Union”, almost exclusively feature the signature shrieking snarl of Eriksen, thankfully not leaving behind this unique bit of edge in keeping with the virtues of ‘Mind‘ but certainly pushing well beyond that record’s moderate fidelity and singular voice quickly. “Union” particularly caught my ear to start in search of notable rhythmic play but the ten and a half minute “Ex Ante” will inevitably be the make-or-break moment for the aficionado, unless you’re equally up for a bit of Wobbler-esque prog rock shake in your tech-thrash, which I certainly was (see also: 11+ minute closer “Self”, saxophone and all).

Rather than pick through every piece of ‘A Swan by the Edge of Mandala‘ from this point it makes sense to instead emphasize a certain rhythmic motif which at the very least links the beginning of the album (“Ecotone”) and ending (“Self”) into subconsciously stirring loop to enrobe the otherwise eventful hourlong full listen. Per my own tendencies the most immersive (read: longest) and active pieces engaged most, tending towards the wailing-wild strokes of “Self” in finale and the blustering-in exuberance of the first few pieces as the album presented its greater dynamic reach. It’d all been a true grower, just as ‘Mind‘ was back in 2018, for the sake of Vorbid presenting intelligence by way of extended phrases, extreme points of directive focus rather than fiddling with showboat technique or too obvious hooks. The listening experience leaves me ecstatic, impressed by the torn-open availability of the artist yet perhaps not feeling its turmoil so much as marveling at the brilliant fusion they’ve achieved between future-thrash and progressive rock/metal, all of which sounds modern without any of the vellum cheapness or rhythm-lite action expected nowadays. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (83/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:A Swan by the Edge of Mandala
LABEL(S):Indie Recordings
RELEASE DATE:October 14th, 2022

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