(This is Andy Synn‘s enthusiastic review of the new album by Chicago’s Vukari, which was released on October 1st by Vendetta Records.)
Remember some time ago… last week… when I said that 2019 has been a banner year for Death Metal?
Well, I wasn’t wrong. But did you also know it’s been a hell of a year for Black Metal too?
Just scratching the surface of the last nine months or so I can think of albums from (let me just stretch a bit first)…Consummation, Barshasketh, Misþyrming,Sinmara, Enthroned, Idolatry, Vanum, Mephorash, Kampfar, Idolatry, The Negative Bias, Panzerfaust, Mgła, Deadspace, Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, Neptunian Sun, Advent Sorrow, Blut Aus Nord … and we’ve still got new records from Mayhem, Schammasch, Abigail Williams, Dawn Ray’d, The Great Old Ones, and more, to look forward to.
This week, however, it was the turn of Chicago quartet Vukari to make their case for why their new album deserves to stand alongside the very best Black Metal that 2019 has to offer.
To say that Vukari have outdone themselves this time would be an understatement.
Because while each of the band’s previous releases all had at least something to offer even the most jaded of listeners (with 2016’s Divination being a high point), Aevum is on a whole other level.
It’s fastier, heavier, sharper, smarter, more progressive, more atmospheric… it’s the sound of a band finally finding their own sound, their own wavelength… a band finally finding themselves.
Of course, if all that strikes you as a little over the top I understand. After all, there’s a thin line between “enthusiastic” and “hyperbolic”, and I’m just as guilty as anyone else of crossing it from time to time.
But considering the quality of artists to which Aevum can be compared – Wolves In The Throne Room, Der Weg Einer Freiheit, Wiegedood — heck, I’ve even seen people making references to the early works of the late, great, Altar of Plagues – perhaps a little bit of hype is justified?
Thankfully it’s much more than a mere clone or carbon-copy of any of these bands. It’s more energetic than WITTR, more dynamic than DWEF, and more epic than Wiegedood, and every single song possesses a searing intensity and subtle creativity that’s absolutely second to none.
Opener “Abrasive Hallucinations”, for example, is a whirlwind of elemental riffs and blistering blastbeats, howling vocals, and hypnotising melodies, whose every twist and turn interweaves seamlessly with the next, while the seven-and-a-half minute “Agnosia” expands all these elements even further, without stretching any of them thin, while also finding time to engage in a few moments of moody, meditative calm.
This is followed in turn by “Entire Worlds Encased In Ice”, which balances out the slightly more atmospheric bent of its predecessor with a blast of pure grimness and groove, making it one of the most furious and frenzied tracks on the disc, after which the similarly blast-driven deluge of “Curiosity and Obsession” captures an even more epic and triumphant vibe without sacrificing an ounce of the album’s power or potency.
One thing you’ll no doubt have noticed by this point, and which contributes massively to the album’s success, is the prominence of the band’s rhythm section in the overall mix, with drummer Mike DeStefano delivering an incredibly nuanced and creative performance that goes above and beyond the usual bombastic blasturbation (not that it’s lacking in this department) you might expect.
It’s bassist Spenser Morris, however, who proves to be the album’s unsung MVP, his expressive, electrifying bass lines fleshing out the band’s sound and filling up the sonic spectrum in ways that far too many bands (especially Black Metal bands) tend to neglect.
There’s never a moment where he doesn’t make his presence known, yet he never threatens (unless it’s absolutely necessary) to pull your focus away from the scything riffs and scintillating melodies provided by guitarists Marek Cimochowicz and Jace Kiburz.
Now, I have seen some suggestions that Aevum suffers from a bit of a mid-album lull around track five, “Voidwalker”, and while I can understand this perception to an extent, I have to disagree.
Certainly “Voidwalker” is a moodier, more mid-paced affair than the songs which preceded it, but this ultimately serves a greater purpose by providing a brooding, more introspective counterpoint to the extravagant extremity of “Curiosity and Obsession” or the hyper-intensity of “Disparity” (whose blend of blast-fuelled fury, shining melody, and abstract atmosphere would put the aforementioned Der Weg Einer Freiheit to shame).
It’s also not a complete outlier, as “The True King Is Death” is both slower, and darker, than the rest of the album (albeit possessing a truly scorching finale), which means that while things certainly do change going into the record’s second half, it’s not so much a lull as it is a means of exploring some different, but no less enthralling, tones and textures.
Concluding with the climactic catharsis of “Vacating Existence” – eleven minutes of fire and ferocity, atmosphere and energy, whose early slow-burn build belies its explosive intensity – Aevum ends on a ridiculously high note, which practically demands you immediately spin the disc back up right from the start.
And it really does deserve to be listened to, again and again, as there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most captivating, compelling records, Black Metal or otherwise, of 2019.