Review: Vukari – Aevum

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Expectations are a hell of a thing. We have all encountered very talented people in our lives we know have enormous potential but just aren’t consistent in applying their talent. We see flashes of greatness come through and expect to see it again because we know it’s all there. Yet when we don’t see it, our expectations aren’t met and we feel disappointed. Even if the performance was still good by any other measure, it can be maddening. This is where I find Vukari’s latest, Aevum.

Vukari is a four-man outfit out of Chicago, Illinois US and A, featuring one of the guitarists from progressive DM darlings, Warforged. On Vukari’s 2013 debut full length Matriarch and follow-up EP En to Pan, they played their best impression of Wolves in the Throne Room with sprawling atmoscapes of more or less constant rhythm, aiming to change things up a bit with some higher register post- shimmering on top. Like a 3.6 Roentgen reading, not great, not terrible. It just was.

In 2016, they made a few waves with their second full-length, Divination. Although still very much beholden to their influences (think WIITR, Alcest, Altar of Plagues, with a sprinkle of Deafheaven sans the uplifting passages), they performed their impression with more skill than your average post-BM/atmoblack act. But as our boy Richter correctly observed, that is still a very crowded field.  He had some fun with his review  and pretty much nailed it. Take a couple minutes to refresh yourselves on a good piece of writing. I’ll still be here when you get back.

In the three years since Divination, Vukari has grown. But like a teenage growth spurt, not everything develops at the same time or in the same proportion. Because of that uneven development, Aevum is a sometimes frustrating listen. There are moments of brilliance that show the heights Vukari can reach and hint at an identity all their own. Then there is the disappointing portion: very competently played but unexciting post-BM/atmoblack genre exercises.

Aevum starts out with a full display of Vukari’s enormous ceiling. Opening track and album single “Abrasive Hallucinations (Reality Hemorrhaging)” is an exhilarating and dynamic composition that flows through building tension, reverbed, furious and claustrophobic tremolos, high-registered post- leads layered on top, and excellently-timed pace drops that metamorphosize into a pounding stomp that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Viking metal joint. The song is insistent and commanding in how it shapes a musical reality. It’s what Vukari should and needs to be.

Unfortunately, from there until the second half, Vukari loses dynamics and falls into the tropey grooves worn deep into the road by their forebears. “Agonosia” borrows heavily from WIITR’s “Born from the Serpent’s Eye” before transitioning briefly into a morose yet gleaming post-BM passage that would almost save the track if Vukari didn’t decide to return to the initial WIITR riff again. Third track “Entire Worlds Encased in Ice” tries to shift gears by flirting with death metal riffing in the midst of a fairly pedestrian atmoblack track with few distinct ideas. It isn’t without its highlights though, as the song’s midsection ripples with a bouncy passage reminiscent of Emperor’s “Night of the Graveless Souls” followed by double bass rumbling. But like “Agonosia” before it, a satisfying filling isn’t enough to salvage the track.

“Curiosity and Obsession” succeeds in being one of those WIITR tracks that hits on nice melodic atmospheres but ultimately can’t sustain interest because it never changes pace. “Voidwalker” brings out the Alcest and Altar of Plagues playbook for a more engaging song that blends the beauty of the former with the underlying unease of the latter. Of the more derivative songs on the record, “Voidwalker” is the most effective in its execution.

With the first half out of the way, the final three songs deliver the personality, urgency, and dynamics missing in action since the opening track. “Disparity (The Great Works)” mirrors its song title by supplying a polarized track barreling forward manically before falling into a depressive cycle replete with desperate cries and melodies to match. Penultimate song “The True King Is Death” opens with tom-heavy, hammering beats over lilting post- melodies, then descends into sinister depths with unsettling counterpoint melodies carefully layered one after another. It’s right behind “Abrasive Hallucinations (Reality Hemorrhaging)” in compositional quality and one of my favorites on the album.

And no atmoblack/post-BM record would be complete without a massive epic to close it out. “Vacating Existence (The Final Departure)” is just such a track, weighing in at a stout 11 minutes carried on a frame of slowly building moods, affecting leadwork, and pensive melodies. It gently drifts in for a soft synth landing that cleanses all remaining tension and feels relaxing, like a comfy chair after a rough day. With the tension built up throughout Aevum, it’s a perfect and well-earned finish.

As a whole, Vukari crafted a very good-to-great four-song EP that is regrettably appended to merely good material.  I don’t mean that any of it is bad. Far from it. Even the retread tracks are played with evident skill and passion.  The production and cover art are top-notch to boot. But the world doesn’t need Good Atmoblack Band #465. It needs Vukari. They’ve shown me they can be Vukari for half an album. If they can continue their development and create a full-length of songs like “Abrasive Hallucinations (Reality Hemorrhaging)” and “The True King Is Death,” they could be one of the best bands in the field. Until then, however, I will dream of their potential.

3/5 Flaming Toilets of Hope and Disappointment

Aevum will be released October 1 through Vendetta Records.  Check them out on Bandcamp as well.

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