Scorpions of The Supreme Darkness: A Vargrav & Grafvitnir Double Review
The Finnbear got a double shot of feral reviewing prowess for ya.
A brisk year or so ago, I welcomed the coming of Vargrav – a symphonic black metal band that promulgated the golden age of Obtained Enslavement and Dimmu Borgir. Soon it will already be the time for the bands sophomore full-length Reign In Supreme Darkness to be released. Such a short wait often leads to anxiety, but Netherstorm was actually written and demoed back in 2016, despite being released early last year, lending a more considerable time between the two.
Where Netherstorm approached it’s art from a similar angle as Ringarë did earlier this year on their debut Under Pale Moon, with lengthy songs awash in heavy layers of synth and lengthy songs mostly following an ascetic structure, seeking a sense of cosmic mysticism. While Reign In Supreme Darkness does follow a mostly similar path, some notable differences do set the albums apart. Following the intro, “The Glory of Eternal Night” immediately makes this known, it’s shorter than any of the debut’s songs, but one of the longest here. It’s also livelier than much of the older material, it’s slithering riffs going through more permutations and changes than seen before, yet more careful in this manner than some of the songs that follow. It’s also a comfortable opener, lulling into a sense of familiarity, being a re-recording of an older song that appeared on the 7″ EP of the same title, offered as a bonus for the purchasers of Netherstorm’s LP edition.
Reign In Supreme Darkness appears more directly riff-heavy than the debut as the guitars and keys have diverged, now taking complimentary routes, instead of simultaneous ones. Though a lot of the actual “liveliness” of the record comes from it’s comparatively compactness, having all the movement is restricted to a smaller space. Only the closer, “Arcane Stargazer” reaches for the same lengths, though with several more individual ideas. I loved Netherstorm, and it ended p on my top 3 last year, and though it may be a little early to say, Reign In Supreme Darkness might be even better.
With Grafvitnir you always know what you’re going to get. Melodic, riff-heavy black metal with a variation of that unique, instantly recognizable guitar tone you’ve come to associate with them. I’ve come to quote Lizard’s apt description of the band on his Necrosophia review before, but little else could as well capture the essence of the band’s chaosophical black metal – “offering no respite by way of clean passages or frilly interludes, just sharply honed icicles which pierce through the foggy Scandinavian veil of Winter and perforate your ear drums on their way into your brain. While a pervading melodic element exists in the songs, it is entirely based at the cold end of the spectrum, gusting with frigid squalls rather than balmy emotive breezes.”
Venenum Scorpionis attempts to break through Grafvitnir self-imposed walls about as much as the band tries to bend the boundaries of black metal as a genre, which is to say, not at all. The excellent, labyrinthine “The Beast Inside”, or the lengthier “Nocturnal Sun” that does find and take advantage of an additional gear without compromising the band’s unifying vision are some of the best the Swedes have put to tape. Put that together with Venenum Scorpionis being (barely) their shortest album to date, add two longer-than-usual interludes of which the title-track is your average ambient track already put to use on their previous record, and the re-recorded “I Nattens Mantel Svept” from their Vessel of Serpent Fire demo an all-acoustic mood piece that simultaneously breaks the band’s modus operandi and somehow only fortifies it, and Venenum Scorpionis’ balanced, clear mix, Grafvitnir’s latest is bound to satisfy any fan, and would serve as one of the better entry points for newcomers. Not to mention that unlike practically every other Grafvitnir it’s easily available from Bandcamp, or streaming services such as Spotify.
Rejoice, for after writing this review, four of Gravitnir’s six full-lengths have been added to Spotify, and I assume to other streaming services as well