(In this edition of THE SYNN REPORT for September 2018, Andy Synn reviews all the albums released so far by the Californian black/death band Valdur, as well as their new full-length scheduled for detonation on October 19th.)
Recommended for fans of: Impaled Nazarene, Incantation, (early) Immortal
By sheer coincidence the last several editions of The Synn Report have covered bands who tend towards the more melodic, the more ambient, or the more accessible end of the metallic spectrum.
Which makes it high time we delved into something a little harder, and a lot nastier, doesn’t it?
Hailing (aptly enough) from Mammoth Lakes in California, Valdur’s fluctuating line-up has often been veiled in a shroud of obfuscation, with several of the band’s members operating either unacknowledged, unnamed, or under a carefully crafted pseudonym, over the years.
But while the group’s roster may have changed, their core-line-up, and their commitment to their uncompromising and unrelenting brand of grim and gritty Black/Death Metal, has remained remarkably – even rabidly – consistent, over the course of five (soon to be six) savagely Satanic, ravenously riff-heavy, albums.
And with their newest release, Goat of Iniquity, set for release on the 19th of October, now seemed like the perfect time to go for a deep dive into the filth and fury of the band’s back-catalogue.
VALDUR – 2007
The band’s gloriously grim, aggressively lo-fi, self-titled debut kicks off with the devilishly dark and menacingly atmospheric strains of “Bolthorn”, which blends blistering blastbeats and bone-grinding grooves in inhumanly infectious fashion, followed in quick succession by the charred, churning riffs, lurching rhythms, and chaotic, clattering drums of “Step Into the Pentagram”, which ups the Death Metal quotient considerably, while still maintaining the band’s barbaric, blackened edge.
At just over seven minutes in length, “Thor’s Hammer” is the longest song on the album, but never feels bloated or over-indulgent, as the band maintain a rapid, nearly unrelenting pace for the first several minutes of the track, before dropping into a heavy, stomping, irresistibly headbangable groove – laced with arterial splashes of malevolent melody – which only gets heavier (much heavier) as things go on.
The doomy, oppressively atmospheric intro to “Slekt av fortidens krigere” showcases a different side to the group’s repertoire, with hints of a more epic (albeit still evil) sound akin to classic, pre-Sons…Immortal appearing – whose undercurrent then continues to be heard and make itself known throughout the rest of the song’s gruesomely effective, riff-fuelled run-time, after which the violent blasting and thrillingly visceral vocals of “Battlescars” assault your eardrums with sufficient sonic force to leave a lasting mark of their own.
Concluding with the succinctly-titled, and suitably scorching, “Fire” – a towering inferno of rapacious, writhing tremolo runs, distorted dissonance, and merciless percussive pounding – Valdur quickly and efficiently establishes itself as a force to be reckoned with, and remains one of the band’s most definitive works even now.
RAVEN GOD AMONGST US – 2010
Still held by many to be the group’s magnum opus, Raven God Amongst Us (whose title-track, amusingly, isn’t actually found on this album, but can instead be located on the band’s 2009 split with Lightning Swords of Death) hits hard and fast with the cataclysmic cacophony of “Wound Fires In The Afterlife”, showcasing a sound that is both noticeably heavier and sharper than that of their debut and which, while not as dirty overall, helps give the band’s bone-rattling drums and skin-shredding riffs an extra dose of power and intensity which is more than worth the trade-off in the end.
The group keep the energy levels high, and the riffs flowing like blood from an open wound, with the abominable “Great Abyss Unfold” unleashing upon the listener a barrage of spiteful blackened savagery, scything riffage, and blasting snare (as well as a much improved and more effective low-end), following which the venomous blend of dissonant Death Metal and blistering Black Metal which makes up “Gravlagt i morkets natt!” steps in to mop up any survivors in brutally effective, ruthlessly efficient, fashion.
I can’t overstate just how much the improvements in production have helped the band to better realise their sound on this album. There’s just so much more punch and precision to the drums, more muscle to the guitars, and more vitriol in the vocals. There’s also, shockingly, a proper bass presence this time around too, adding a welcome mix of low-end heft and lithe counter-melodies (the brilliantly brooding “Vicious Existence” being a major highlight on that point) to the music.
The grim grandeur of “Med fjell i horisonten” is the band at their bleakest, and moodiest, while “Berserker” is, fittingly, the band’s most berserk, Black Metal focussed track yet, delivering just under five minutes of pure, unadulterated blasting fury, after which the similarly blast-fuelled – but also much more groove-intensive – “Past of Wolves” find the band continuing down the left hand path at a rate of knots, in places sounding like a more pissed-off and primal version of early-Vreid and/or latter-day Windir.
Closing as it does with the stunning combo of “Vicious Existence” and the inimitably intense instrumental strains of “Creation”, it’s not hard to see why this album continues to be held in such high regard by so many of the band’s fans.
AT WAR WITH – 2013
After undergoing another line-up change (this one being rather more major than the first, however, with long-time vocalist/guitarist Thor having exited the group sometime prior to the recording of the band’s Hammer Pit EP), the reconstituted Valdur arose from the ashes with a gleam of reborn ambition in their collective eye, as well as an even heavier, more Death Metal sound under their belt.
The eerie, keyboard-inflected intro of “Enter” soon gives way to the brutish, chainsaw guitars and neck-wrecking rhythms of “Conjuring the Fire Plagues”, which continues the band’s well-documented obsession with marrying flame-related titles to some similarly scorching Black/Death Metal, while also introducing the listener to the band’s much more dense and deathly sound, replete with lashings of gargantuan gutturals and chugging riffage, as well as a hint of Vader/Dismember-ish melody.
This morbid melodic undercurrent is even more prominent during the intro to “Death Winds Will Cleanse”, which eventually gives way to a whirling dervish of storming blast-beats and searing riffs, all accented by some subtly doomy bass-work and some surprisingly clever percussive patterns, after which the insufferably dense Death Metal bombardment of “Incantre” slams its way out of the speakers in a veritable orgy of grinding riffs and gruesome vocals.
The instrumental interlude of “Vast”, while still viciously heavy and pulsing with blasturbatory ferocity in places, provides a touch more melody and haunting atmosphere, serving, in its own unique way, as a bit of a mid-album breather before the utterly colossal “At War With The Old World” (probably the best song on the album) and the barely-controlled chaos of “The Calm Before The War” erupt into unholy life, spewing fire and brimstone and noxious poison from every gaping orifice.
Beginning with a well-chosen Blade Runner quote (and, no, it’s not the one you’re thinking of), “Hellish Dischord” proves to be simultaneously one of the album’s most acerbic and aggressive cuts and one of its most memorably epic, melding skin-stripping blasts and blazing riffs with a touch of imperious, Immortal-ish melody, which leads the listener with irresistible momentum into the grisly, Incantation-esque “Hammer Pit”, whose blend of doomy, ground ‘n’ pound grimness and scorching, slash ‘n’ burn savagery, makes for one utterly unforgiving piece of penultimate punishment, before the whiplash-inducing strains of “Creation Pt. II” bring the whole album crashing down around it.
PATHETIC SCUM – 2015
Weathering yet more upheaval in their line-up (the vocalist for this album is simply listed as “??”), Valdur’s fourth full-length found them delving even further into the same suffocating sonic quagmire inhabited by Incantation, Autopsy, etc, while still maintaining their own unique and ruthless blackened edge.
This is immediately apparent during hulking opener “Tank Torture”, whose humongous grooves and bowel-loosening vocals are augmented by moments of primal blackened brilliance over the course of the track’s nine-and-a-half sadistically intense minutes.
The brutal Black/Death hybrid of “Impending Doom” is as dirty and as brutal as anything the band have ever written, but it’s also shockingly groovy and almost insidiously catchy in places, which makes for one serious dose of cognitive dissonance at times, as the song whiplashes back and forth between harrowing auditory violence and hypnotically headbangable hooks.
Speaking of hooks, “Blessings of the Goat” is basically just one big, barbed and rusted hook from start to finish, every writhing, warlike riff, every rampant, pulse-pounding drum beat, and every vile, visceral vocalization, seemingly designed to pierce their way right down to the most primal and primitive part of your brain.
The title-track is one perfectly proportioned, precisely-delivered, blast of auditory agony which only gets heavier, harsher, and more intense as it goes on, and is succeeded by the scathing blackened belligerence and out-of-left-field weirdness of “Incantre Pt. II”, which sees the band making use of some extremely off-kilter, John Carpenter-esque keyboard embellishments to make things even more unsettling than they already were.
Oddly enough, Pathetic Scum is held up by some people as the one weak-spot in the band’s otherwise impeccable catalogue, but I couldn’t disagree more. It’s just as dark and ugly and unforgiving as anything else they’ve put out, and, by the time that the merciless “Morbid Emanations” – a song which occasionally reaches peaks of speed and intensity, as well as ominous, oppressive, heaviness, which I can only describe by using the word “ludicrous” – brings things to a convulsive, apoplectic close, I have no doubt that quite a few of you are going to be ready to agree with me!
DIVINE CESSATION – 2017
Hailed by this very writer as one of the best albums of the year (seriously, it’s true, go look), Divine Cessation is easily the biggest and most bombastic sounding Valdur album yet, though it still retains every filthy ounce of ugliness and pure, unadulterated aggression from their previous works.
As a matter of fact I’d probably declare it to be, in my opinion at least, the band’s finest hour (well, forty minutes), as every aspect of it – the heaviness, the sheer ferocity, the unyielding atmosphere of pure dread – just seems that little bit more powerful, and that little bit more terrifying, than ever before.
It also features a return to a much more blackened sound than either of its two predecessors (although the vocals are still as hideously guttural as ever), something which is made immediately apparent by the scything riffs and morbid melodies of monumental opener “Breath of the Beast”, and then further reinforced by the pulverizing broadside of withering blastbeats and buzzing, low-string tremolo lines which drives the tumultuous title-track.
“The Tail” is a Blackened Death Metal apocalypse of molten riffs and demonic growls which moves erratically back and forth between stomping, slow-motion grooves and strafing, hyper-adrenalised aggression, pausing only for a short atmospheric interlude around the half-way mark before coming back in an even more intense and even more apocalyptic fashion for its slaughterous second half.
“Seething Disgust” is just as vicious and unforgiving as its title suggests, as well as the most overtly Black Metal track on the entire album (up to this point anyway), while “Doomed” is – appropriately – easily the doomiest and most ominous cut on the record, with the two together showing that, as unflinchingly and unrepentantly extreme as Valdur are, they’re still far from a mere one-trick pony.
With “Plague Born of a Dying Star” the band not only ramp up the intensity even further, but also dredge up even more of their more blackened beginnings in the process, delivering a scalding assault on the senses akin to Setherial or Enthroned at their most ravenous and untamed, all topped off with a chaser of guttural vocals and eerie, haunting atmosphere, which in turn sets the stage for the sickening grooves, diabolical melodies, and Brobdingnagian blastbeats of the climactic “Potent Black Orb”.
Make no mistake about it, this is a truly monstrous album, and one which sets a new standard for the band going forwards.
GOAT OF INIQUITY – 2018
Valdur have always been a band who have refused to be undone by adversity, and their latest album is no exception, as circumstances dictated that Goat of Iniquity was (by cruel necessity) recorded/performed by a slightly different, slightly stripped-back, line-up.
And, whether by accident or design, this has result in Goat… being by far the most Black Metal sounding album the band have produced since their debut, with only the continued presence of some macabre gutturals and the occasional chunky, churning riff, acting as testament to the band’s underlying Death Metal essence.
Opener “Divine Halls of Obscurity Pt. I”, for example, is just under five minutes of scything guitars and stuttering, rapid-fire drums, aligning the band more closely than ever with the grim, demonic delivery of Mayhem or early Gorgoroth, and which immediately lays out the band’s merciless modus operandi this time around.
“Goat of Iniquity / Devouring the Whore of Darkness” is nine-and-a-half minutes of blitzkrieg ferocity and feverish blasphemy, whose remorseless and relentless drumming barely ever – barring a few moments of doom and gloom mid-way through – takes its foot off the gas (or off your throat), while “Divine Halls of Obscurity Pt. II” is another punishing, pitch-black anthem of whirling, razor-edged riffery that recalls, in part, the blizzard-like fury of early Immortal, and which offers absolutely no quarter at all as it propels the listener onwards at a neck-breaking pace towards the intensely atmospheric strains of “Spiritual Exhaust (The Beyond)”.
With “Inhale the Floodgates Open” Valdur err a little closer to their classic Black/Death sound, albeit with the emphasis still very much on the Black Metal side, while also opening up some room for a little bit of extra melody and subtly intricate bass work to leak into the album. Of course this is all done in between explosions of reckless velocity, but these occasional shifts towards a darker, moodier delivery only serv i to reinforce how utterly savage the rest of the song is.
And while the album’s climax, the eerie, avant-garde atmospheric noisescape of “(Iniquitous)” definitely comes out of left-field in the grand scheme of things, it actually serves as a welcome respite, and a frankly rather fascinating choice for a finale, following such a breathtaking sonic assault.
Granted, it’s unlikely to ever unseat Divine Cessationin my personal affections, but overall Goat of Iniquity is another steaming, bloody slab of prime-cut metallic menace, and well worth getting a hold of if you’re a fan of music that’s as raw as a freshly gouged wound.