Whilst reading through the back catalogue of albums I have vocally enjoyed, one may notice a variety of little quirks and foibles. These include, but are certainly not limited to: A. an issue with albums that run unnecessarily long, and B. a general disinterest in color-by-number black metal. Regarding the first point, let it be known that today’s album in question suffereth not. Regarding the second, while the legends and the classics will always garner respect and the occasional spin from this particular Villager, I seldom find myself seeking out black metal artists of the new era. As such, when I say that Vrednesdal's (stellar, as it turns out) Fealty of Diabolism was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, it’s my hope that my words will carry a modestly significant weight.
Why the anticipation? In the appropriately frostbitten January of this year, we reviewed the excellent Gather, All Ye Hellions, Vrednesdal’s 3-track demo EP. From the start, it was very clear that Wisconsin’s premiere one-man black metal outfit is a force of nature--to quote said review: “Gather, All Ye Hellions isn't the product of your run-of-the-mill black metal wannabe. Nor is it a half-baked call to arms. Vredensdal means business.” Given the extremely high quality on display, I was very glad to see that these three tracks have found a place--albeit in a revamped form--in the confines of Fealty of Diabolism. They join five new furious and increasingly inventive tracks, as well as a translated version of “Ved Midnatt,” which winds things down with familiarity and grace.
How to begin my praise? Thematically, the accusations of societal and religious hypocrisy are as present and well-considered as always. Sonically, Fealty is remarkably diverse; to explain the wide range of sounds contained within would be an extensive exercise, to say the least. For a more adjective-laden description, check out the prior review. And, rather than slipping into the generally meaningless Kampfar and Darkthrone comparisons, I'll let you know this: while Fealty is undeniably an album for fans of second wave black metal, Vredensdal is not one to accept or even acknowledge confinement.
On a sonic level, perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Fealty--and the Vredensdal brand as a whole--is the sheer variety on display when it comes to riff selection. There are, seemingly, no rules here. Despite a healthy dose of tremeloes and frosty ambiance, the riffs and licks that may appear more obvious candidates for NWOBHM, doom, or even rollickin’ hard rock, rear their heads on countless occasions. Album highlight “Die by the Sword’ and lead single “The Suffering Ghost,” for example, both utilize a weighted plod that lends the respective tracks an ominous Sabbathian flair. Meanwhile, “Mistress of Mayhem” blows out all the stops, moving from riff to emotive riff across a gamut of genre tendencies. A thick, bluesy, and otherwise moody atmosphere contrasts--but yet never clashes--with the uptempo trad metal romp. Here, as across the album as a whole, repetition and redundancy is eschewed as Vredensdal moves with intensity and purpose.
Be it the guitar, or wretched vocal delivery, or blasphemous and contemplative lyricism, it is never entirely clear what waits around the bend. This is a true strength, and perhaps the primary reason that the nine tracks herein are so utterly engrossing. Nuance is an overused term, and given the blatantly raw approach, it may not accurately apply. That said, there is a true sophistication to the composition. There is great power in the unexpected, and Vredensdal knows this...exceedingly well. The manner in which he so obsessively avoids stagnation is uncommon, to say the least. And while it may be in bad taste to look forward whilst still immersed in the current release, it really does make one wonder what unexplored avenues Vredensdal will venture down next. Candidly, it’s refreshing to be so excited about an artist’s development and musical maturation.
Fealty of Diabolism is raw, ravaged, and utterly engrossing. It maintains all of the strengths of the demo, and expands upon that promise in virtually every conceivable way. Indeed, the only criticism this captivated critic can dig up is that a heftier low end and a wider dynamic range would lend the particularly inventive track a more tangible weight. But all told, this is black metal at its most true--and I hasten to add that this is not meant in the sense of vainglorious corsepaint'd and image-obsessed attention seekers. In a genre built on individualism and expression, the ability to subvert and otherwise clamber over the walls of established expectation makes Vredensdal the genuine article. Fealty of Diabolism comes highly, highly recommended. Come End o’ Year list time, it’s safe to say ye should expect an appearance.
Vredensdal - Fealty of Diabolism was released June 25th, 2019. CDs can be purchased through Black Mourning Productions.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.