The first thing to go was the data itself, distended by a hapless future civilization nearly extinct by the death of their final information age. Buried deep in the ruins of old cities distended hundred year old books crumbled in the hands of the last sentient generation, eldest knowledge desiccated by their negligence. Finally, the incessant storms across countless generations left every carved relief or mosaic scratched away from their stone for eternity. Facsimiles where managed but just as marble figures lack appendages and faces today, so did the written word resemble a shambling, rotted corpse. The oral tradition of mankind continues beyond the loss of all recorded knowledge yet the primitivity of this new way took only a few generations of restless survival to fully devolve into zealotry, a thirst for the ascension of the ancient gods. Today a cult of transcendence rises in search of the path and our gateway to the realm of the past is through the minds of Italian mythological death metal quartet Valgrind who seek the eternal resonance of the ancients on this fifth full-length album. In their undying pursuit of ‘old school’ death metal’s high standards these Bologna-based folks’ve mastered the greater palette of the refined age of the classics over their last several releases and with ‘Millennium of Night Bliss‘ their own meld of unholy riffcraft and capably semi-melodic force arrives upon an newly galvanizing peak. There are few death metal bands today so capably conjuring this type of thrashing madness with such consistent masterful strokes in hand and without a doubt this is one of their finest works to date.
Though I’d written about Valgrind‘s last two records extensively in my review of their third LP (‘Blackest Horizon‘, 2018) some of the earlier history has been cleared up a bit since then. The band formed circa 1996 by way of former members of (then) black/speed metal band Necrospell with guitarist and main songwriter Massimiliano Elia being the founder and curator as they’d developed their sound across three demo tapes and an EP. The true lifespan of the group began upon reforming circa 2012 and from there the rest has been focused on an “epic” feeling of spectacle, a shade of inventive melody, and all of this without compromising the speed and aggression of pure death metal. It is an impossibly high standard and of course over the years this means pulling inspiration from the best, such as Immolation, Pestilence and of course the clear nods to Morbid Angel and Nocturnus depending on the album where we might find the punch of ‘Blessed are the Sick‘ on ‘Condemnation‘ (2020) and some of the thrashing, shredding space opera of Mike Browning on ‘Blackest Horizon‘. If you’d recalled my review of that fourth LP this means a description of their sound can easily stretch from the late 80’s through the late 90’s wherein we find each album buzzing in all directions for the invested fan’s ear but certainly interested in the best death metal has to offer along the way. Anyone worth thier salt in terms of undying interest in ‘old school’ death metal heritage and standards will readily recognize and support this deep and devoted style of underground death metal.
‘Millennium of Night Bliss‘ still looks to Florida’s finest for their attack in general, but from my point of view the level of aggression found on early Monstrosity applies to the general M-4 shot pacing we get here as well. There is a swinging n’ stabbing electricity to their compositions here which provides some incredible nods to the thrashing stride of early Pestilence (also, the interludes) alongside plenty of shredding-and-wailing leads and even a bit of melodic death’s more formative side explored throughout. In terms of melody and dissonance in marriage, consider the half-arc treatments of the early Swedish ideal but relegated to harmonized moments (see: the end of “Banished by Celestial Harmonies”) or crooked turns taken, most of which resolve with a more chromatic teeth-rattling urgency. I’d found this album was built directly upon the reach of ‘Condemnation‘ in this sense, keeping it brutal enough but taking an almost technically charged approach to melodious heaps of riffs (see also: early Mercyless, but a bit more “heavy metal” in stride) and making sure to finesse a statement and some lava amidst the attack of it all. The title track takes use there with groove as the central focus and the opener “Teshub” sets that precedence best, but the album’s deeper virtues didn’t fully ripen in mind until I’d spent more time with its back half.
In terms of a well-oiled riff cannon with a giant brain attached Valgrind‘s guitarists really, really hit their stride around the mid-point of the album on the soaring-and-crashing melodicism of “Dark Winds of Avalon” which, from my point of view, comes across like a proper early “melodic” death metal piece a la ‘In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead‘ and from there they’d lit a fire in my skull, hanging on each riff even more. From there we get this perfect huddle of three songs which encapsulate exactly why this record is destined to be a gem for the devout, with the thrashing boot of “Oracle of Death” being an intense feature for my own taste per its sort of ‘Testimony of the Ancients‘ feeling pace and needled at verse riffs which appear to resolve in every direction before their bigger groove punctuates the attack. Granted this was an odd angle of entry on my part as I’d picked through the entrails of this record for hours on end, familiarizing myself with the shape of the full listen simply because this is my favorite sort of death metal to come from the modern era. Those two pieces were especially key to cracking their cryptic tongue, I’d found myself appreciating more than ever those points where Valgrind‘s composers choose to shake things up and where they lean traditional per the overall feeling of the album remaining intact. Taking a bit of extra time and leaning on the context that ‘Condemnation’ provides to some extent help ingratiate me with this record quickly and I’ve not put it down for ~four or so weeks, more-or-less making my experience on par with that of ‘Blackest Horizon‘ several years back.
At ~38 minutes and nine songs with two short interludes ‘Millennium of Night Bliss‘ feels like a lost classic of mid-90’s death metal, deeply in service to the innovations still firing off after that first step beyond the 80’s without losing their own identity developed over the last couple of decades. Because they’ve gotten this feeling so precisely right it feels like I’ve spent far more years listening to Valgrind than I have, only really catching onto their sound in 2018, and yet I can appreciate that each of their records sound a bit different per its performers or production values. This is the sort of death metal record which has some particularly strong staying power per my own tastes, especially as a perceived sister record to set next to their fourth LP, which has held up extremely well, so my recommendation naturally reflects this. A very high recommendation.
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