I had initially planned to write a review of the new Megadeth album for my final review of the month of October. After I saw the album art for the upcoming Vargrike album, I had changed my mind because I believe more people should know about this band and their original album… EP? I honestly don’t know what to call it. What do you call a collection of 4 songs that equates out to around 40 minutes long? Pink Floyd did it with Animals with 5 songs, and nobody ever called THAT an EP….. Encyclopedia Metallum may have failed me with their nomenclature on this one.
Well, semantics aside, let me be clear: I am not a black metal fan. This album is most often described as “atmospheric black metal.” This album wasn’t made with someone like me in mind. I have spent years trying to get into the genre. I bought the LEGENDARY album Hellig Usvart by Horde when it was first released. I have the entire discographies of Antestor and Frost Like Ashes and several albums by Crimson Moonlight. So, I know what the “good stuff” is; even if I can only listen to one album of it at a go before, I typically have to switch to something else. With all this being said, the question still remains: “John, if you aren’t into this genre, why are you so adamant about reviewing this album?” We’ll get there, but first, let me talk about the band.
Vargrike is the culmination of 2 musicians working together across the globe: Bal (Vocals) and Velsingard (all instruments). Velsingard is from San Diego, and Bal is from Budapest (Info from Encyclopaedia Metallum, so if I am incorrect, it is the other way around). They formed in 2021 and made the album shortly thereafter. If you are hoping for more information, that is really all I have. The information available is scant, to say the least, but the mystery is quite enticing, though, isn’t it?
Okay, so back to the question. Why am I set on reviewing Útkeresö if I am not a black metal fan? To sum it up in a nutshell: because it is one of the most beautiful albums to which I have listened. In contrast to all the black metal greats I have listed above, this album does EVERYTHING different than what traditional black metal would be defined as without relegating itself to a different genre. It is quite astonishing to me. The ever-present blast beating on the drums? Gone. Pervasive trem picking on the guitar in discordant patterns? Gone. The need to present a sense of evil or misanthropy? Double gone.
Instead of the traditional tropes of black metal and all its tertiary subgenres, what we get is a heavy sense of melody, sorrowful lyrics to point to hope, and the ability to exhibit restraint. They allow the songs to have the time to develop naturally without feeling the need to rush into brutality. The songs are long but not in a dragged-out way. They seem to form more like time-lapse of ice forming on a body of water; it’s intentional, and it has a direction in which it is moving, but it will get there by way of nature rather than by way of force. It’s almost a stream-of-consciousness method of songcraft that resonates deeply with me.
Along with irregular elements of songwriting, we hear non-standard instruments used as well. Specifically, you will hear both bagpipes and accordion in various tunes, but they are done masterfully. There is no grating edge to them, as can be when such instruments are used, nor are they utilized in a pretentious way as you will sometimes see in other albums (“har har, aren’t we clever and unique? We used irregular instruments. They add nothing to the song but they are there”), I am sure you know the type. Instead, these instruments are used with a certain subtle, reserved sense. They don’t showcase themselves but instead bring a certain nuance that would be deeply lacking in their absence.
In my opinion Útkeresö is a perfect album. I can, and have, listened to it on repeat for literal hours. It takes me to a mental space where it is okay to not be okay because there is always something greater for which to hope. It feels my pain and makes it into something beautiful. It is for this reason; I am giving this album my first perfect score: 5 out of 5 barren trees reaching toward the heavens.
In the process of writing this review, I reached out to the band for any information in regard to the upcoming album, A Veresegben. While they were not able to provide me with a release date for it, they did confirm the album title and the album art (see attached). They also contacted me yesterday with this to say about the next album as well:
“Ok, I just listened to the entire album after my first set of masters. Here’s what I can say. Honestly, I think I just created the best album of all time. I haven’t had an album affect me this way since I first listened to Master of Puppets after it was released. This album is an atmospheric journey through an ocean of despair and loss, however in the end you are left with a sense of hope and perseverance. It’s raw yet technical, it’s oppressive yet optimistic. I don’t know, but I think I just wrote the best album I have ever heard and it doesn’t matter if I’m the only one who thinks so.”
Best track: Remeny Ujra
Recommended if you like: Deafheaven
Going forward, I am going to have a second opinion on all of my album reviews to give you a more well rounded perspective of the reviewed material. So, I would like to thank and welcome my new partner in my written reviews, A.C. Peckham. So, without further adieu…
A Second Opinion
by A.C. Peckham
The first thing to note about this album is that it has achieved something I never could. It made John actually love Black Metal. What is it about this particular album that has not only captured his attention but held it for several months since he first heard it?
I myself have listened through this album plenty of times since first discovering it. It is worth noting that this album is only four songs long yet provides over half an hour of music to listen to. Each song is 8-9 minutes long, which one might expect more from Doom Metal. In addition to length, each of these songs have heavy riffs and shrieks, which carry the listener through a foggy, atmospheric experience. Being that Doom Metal is John’s favorite metal subgenre, it is easy to see how this album appeals to him, as it would to most any other Doom Metal enjoyer.
Underlying these doomy, atmospheric riffs also lie some folk elements such as the use of bagpipes, most notably in track 2 (my personal favorite track) Őrző Kezek Fölöttem. This incorporation of Folk elements puts Vargrike neatly into one of my favorite sub-sub-subgenres: Atmospheric-Folk-Black Metal. Vargrike very powerfully captures this unique sound that I have longed to hear more of.
Each song in itself is an amazing work of art. On the whole, however, it grows quite repetitive. Each song essentially does the same thing, building up softly before blasting into the heavy atmosphere thatvlast the next several minutes. It doesn’t seem to show much musical range outside of their particular sound. However, I am anticipating seeing what else they do with this sound in future projects.
It’s not my favorite Atmospheric-Folk-Black Metal album, but it fits well into my personal Atmoblack playlists. Overall I would give this album 3.5/5 ancient warriors lost in a forest.
Best Track: Őrző Kezek Fölöttem
Recommended if your like: Saor, Duir