On their new album Effigy of Nightmares the Cincinnati band Valdrin have used their music to illustrate an epic narrative, and as the title suggests, it’s a nightmarish one. Like their previous album, 2018’s Two Carrion Talismans, the new record focuses on the antagonist of the band’s self-created Ausadjur mythos, a being named Nex Animus. As the band explain: “The story chronicles the tour of a nameless narrator through the halls of Hosptium Mortis, the nightmare hospital below the Orcus underworld itself, where Nex tortures and lobotomizes the dissident gods of his domain.”
Even that brief verbal synopsis has a chilling effect. But the ways in which Valdrin‘s harrowing new music guides us through this frightening netherworld are even more chilling, more threatening to a listener’s sanity, and much more likely to haunt listeners’ dreams for a long time to come. Set aside half an hour and prepare yourself for an experience in electrifying audio terror as we present a full stream of the album in advance of its June 12 release by Blood Harvest Records.
It’s difficult to neatly sum up Valdrin‘s sound. One might call it “melodic black metal”, or perhaps “symphonic black/death”, and there’s a temptation to drop “atmospheric”, “avant-garde”, and “bestial” into the mix as well. All those genre references might seem strange to read in a single sentence, but perhaps you’ll understand when you listen.
The opening track, “Gates of Hospice“, begins the tour with a spectral piano instrumental that builds in intensity against a backdrop of wintry ambient tones, ghastly whispers, and shimmering synths. It alone creates a feeling of dread and fear, and the frightening apprehension becomes a terrifying reality when “Exsanguination Tunnels” explodes in a sonic delirium of searing waves of harsh riffgage, twisted and twining leads, and horrifying shrieks. The piano can still be heard, but its sound has become demented.
The mood of the music is mind-shattering, but Valdrin give the song a visceral pulse as well, thanks to thrusting bass tones and the surge of neck-wrecking rhythms, while also injecting bursts of ruinous double-bass and eerie keyboard emanations that increase the hallucinatory aura of the music. The song is almost theatrically extravagant as it moves through changing phases of mutilating viciousness, imperious grandeur, wrenching misery, and the pain of sheer hopelessness in the face of otherworldly terror, but the effect is also electrifying.
The slow and measured pacing at the outset of “Red Burning Candles of Hatred” does little to calm the nerves, because the enveloping wash of sound is so dismal and deranged, preserving the atmosphere of sheer terror that the preceding track so effectively established. The song does become more frenzied in its ecstatic, pulsating fretwork, and more obliterating in its rhythms, but the weirdly warping and spiraling melodies and the crazed ferocity of the vocals only deepen the feeling that we have sunk far below the green world around us into an awful place where minds are cleaved into fragments just as brutally as flesh is being gouged and carved. Once again, reverberating piano accents arise, adding a different element of unearthly mysticism to the song’s immersive atmosphere, but those notes also sound mad.
After the shuddering one-two punch of those two tracks, Valdrin make an astute choice in following them with the opening of “Serpentine Bloodhalls“, whose mesmerizing orchestration, eerily gleaming synths, and moody acoustic arpeggios provide a bit of a reprieve, creating an entrancing reverie, albeit one that still’s still capable of raising goosebumps on the flesh, especially when a serrated-edge voice begins uttering ominous proclamations. What begins as a reverie, however, transitions into head-moving rhythms and a beguiling saxophone-like melody.
The spell cast by the sorcery in those “Serpentine Bloodhalls” is shattered by the sweeping power and throttling intensity of “Basilisk of Light“. The drums once again erupt in breathtaking fusillades as the music envelops the listener in grand cascades of soaring and searing sound and the ringing of despairing guitars, in bursts of caustic vocals and jolting chords, capped by an electrifying extended guitar solo that’s simultaneously spectacular and crazed in its anguish. Valdrin have again pitched us into music of torrential intensity and expansive sweep, but everything again geared toward capturing fear in its most primal form — the fear of things beyond our ability to control or survive.
And that brings us to the long closing track, “Down The Oubliette Of Maelstrom“. Its percussive rhythms hammer and jab, but its immersive melody seems almost ecstatic, and the piano melody sounds vibrant and vital. Oh, but in the music you can also sense untame-able menace, a sense of creeping dread and imminent mental unmooring. The riffing becomes a skittering and jolting mania; the drums relentlessly hammer; the waves of surround-sound abrasion become both magisterial and sadistic, as well as crushingly despondent; the voice rises in a demonic semblance of song.
Just past the mid-point, when the intensity diminishes (comparatively speaking), the music seethes and then takes flight as the bass and drums begin a methodical death march. We are again being drowned in a sea of wailing and crying sound, with grotesquely distorted words uttered in our ears. At the end, the collage of bizarre sounds rises to a crescendo of complete insanity — and the sound end so abruptly that it would seem that all of the protagonist’s mentation has finally been severed.
Blood Harvest will release the album on CD, vinyl, and cassette tape formats on June 12th, and all are available for pre-order now.
As a further note, founding vocalist/guitarist Carter Hicks has explained: “We as the vessels of the Ausadjur Mythos have chosen this short and concise musical observation of Nex’s supreme power to be the final tale in the Orcus realm. In the future, we will return to the story of Valdrin Ausadjur, and continue after the events of Beyond The Forest [the band’s first album].”