Written by: The Administrator
While there are undoubtedly a few proverbial bats in our belfry, the Sleeping Village doesn’t have a bat-signal...per se. What we do have, however, is a decrepit husk of a bellringer who lives at the top of our (similarly decrepit) tower. When said warden of the bells yearns for the sweet strains of raw blackened fury--something to drown out the ol' incessant ringing--he lights his brightest lantern and waits, earnestly, in hope that someone will heed his call. Luckily for him, Wisconsin's own paragon of the New Wave of US Black Metal was waiting in the wings.
That's right, folks: Vredensdal is back--after a very short break, no less. The Tyrant Shade is here. No rest for the wicked, as they say.
In our review of Fealty of Diabolism, I wrote that a particularly engrossing quality of Vredensdal's brand is the sheer variety in sonic and aesthetic palates--to quote, "be it the guitar, or wretched vocal delivery, or blasphemous and contemplative lyricism, it is never entirely clear what waits around the bend." If this was true then, it is doubly true now. On The Tyrant Shade, there are certainly similarities from track to track, and one can absolutely tell that the same musician is responsible--especially if we're talkin' about the distinctly powerful riffage. That said, most tracks herein have a remarkably distinct character. Take, for example, the overt Bathoryian shade of "Echo of Evil," which is preceded by the expansive and borderline ambient "Woeful Malignance" and followed by the all-encompassing black 'n' roll rager "The Goblin Reaper," which sums up the album's sonic breadth in a single span. Lead single "Living By Torch" and "The Tormentor" lean into the more quintessentially "metal" side of the equation, with a presence that recalls the speedier moments of, say, Celtic Frost. Meanwhile, "Stormskyer Av Hevn" has a distinctly doomy edge come out to play after the furious front half makes a very convincing argument for The Tyrant Shade's (continued) inclusion of speed metal riffs in black metal songs. And to cap off the genre juggling, "Aeons Ablaze!" is downright grungy, with a distinctly Alice In Chains inflection before an inevitable blackened diatribe...which eventually ends in a melancholic whispered outro. This, along with the boisterous "Christ Never Rose," are my personal favorite tracks buried within--the former for it's unique sound, the latter for it's ability to collect the disparate pieces into a single powerful track.
The guitar work on The Tyrant Shade is a particular strength. Indeed, on occasion, it sounds like The Goblin Reaper plugged in and just...let it rip. As such, The Tyrant Shade is marked by a vitality and liveliness seldom encountered outside the bounds of classic trad metal. While Vredensdal has always had riffs, the increased focus on ripping axemanship lends the majority of tracks herein an energetic aura, comparable to Bathory, Mercyful Fate, or Celtic Frost's most foot-stomping moments...or perhaps (dare I say) the jubilant character of early speed innovators such as Diamond Head.
Indeed, if we're looking at the guitar in isolation as one of the album's defining characteristics, the "black metal" tag feels more applicable in spirit rather than sound. There are multiple moments across the breadth that recall the gallop of NWOBHM rather than the (perhaps expected) traditional icy tremolos of black metal's second wave. Said examples are far too numerous to count, but the ripping refrains throughout "Gatekeeper: Iconoclasm," the central motif of the aforementioned "Living By Torch," and the solo-ridden back half of "The Tormentor?" In a word: mighty. Aiding in this newfound sound is the production, which has been significantly beefed up. The guitar boasts a thick sound, which feels remarkably fleshy in comparison to Fealty of Diabolism or the prior EP. The drums have a delicious weight as well, which, in a world of lo-fi tincannery, does not go amiss.
Critically, length is noticeable, with many tracks sporting some trimmable fat. I'm biased in that I'm a firm believer in the superiority of a 45 minute album, but when many tracks are so based on proto-speed metal flair, keeping things moving along is beneficial. Additionally, The Goblin Reaper's vocal delivery, while quite emotive and expressive, feels increasingly flat and one-note as the album stretches on. The aforementioned foray into Layne territory was a nice change of pace, and more moments such as these would only accentuate the more tortured moments.
Considering this album as a whole package, and viewed in the context of Vredensdal's discography, I enjoy his debut effort more--which is to say it makes for an engrossing listening experience in the traditional sense. On Fealty of Diabolism, there is an underlying cohesion that feels, for lack of a better word, more tangible. Perhaps more...approachable? Shedding that approachability, however, was undoubtedly part of Vredensdal's deliberate development. There's an increased focus here on emotive clarity and vulnerability, be it expressions of anger or vulnerability or pain.
To this end, I do enjoy how relentlessly raw The Tyrant Shade feels. In some senses, "raw" is an easy qualifier due to the rough 'n' ready sonic quality on this release, but if you move beyond the sound itself, both the approach and the thematic underpinnings are distinctly raw as well. As such, this album demands a little more out of the audience--a certain level of attention is required to meld the rambunctious riffage with the lyrical content and the unconventional composition. As such, The Tyrant Shade is not for idle ears or idle listening. Bottom line? If you're in the mood for guitar-driven black metal that ignores and eschews the mold, I think it's high time you try Vredensdal on for size.
Vredensdal - The Tyrant Shade was released May 8th, 2020. CDs can be purchased via Jems Label
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!