From the Back of the Rack #2: Nattverd Tread Black Metal’s Ancient Trails on “Vandring”
From the Back of the Rack is a new column that looks at potentially overlooked releases from the month prior.
Nattverd are yet another excellent offering to emerge from the dynamic Bergen black metal scene in recent years. Their momentous music has always resonated as reflecting the frozen spirit of Norwegian black metal. They close their impressive "Black Death Trilogy" with the melancholic and yet fierce third album, Vandring, which nicely reflects the genre's tropes and rewards devout listeners. Vandring also features some of Nattverd's most diverse songwriting to date, but it is the stellar production and momentous soundscapes that make for something that feels larger than life. This is a black metal addict's black metal record, and it's one that will keep the faithful legions mesmerized with what the group has conjured up.
In 2021, it seems increasingly rare for bands to play "true" black metal. That is to say – executing the genre in the classic '90s Norwegian second wave style. Even though Vandring does periodically stray from the path, it very much conforms to the genre's broad strokes. Hearing these elements come together makes for rewarding listening. This is a record that was clearly intended to be a meaningful addition to the Norwegian black metal canon, and on many levels it succeeds. It shows a clear lineage and evokes the right set of emotions, transporting listeners to the forest and the fjords. Listeners experience the blizzards and mayhem that fuel this music on masterpieces like "Med rive og lime." The album's most grandiose moments, as on tracks like "Gudsmenn, deres svik erkjenn," clearly borrow from the band's sonic ancestors—Darkthrone, Enslaved and others of that ilk—but they have the advantage of hindsight to craft something that brings in a surprisingly diverse set of sounds.
For those who listened to Nattverd's previous albums and EP, there are some unexpected musical left turns here. More than ever before, the band leans into keyboard frills on tracks like "Naar taaken fortaear alt" and even brings in a few more hard rock leaning elements, like "I moerket slkumbrer ravnen'"s high-powered intro which rapidly turns into an intense black metal rager. More subdued passages, like the intro of "Det hvisker I veggene," are a testament to the dynamic power of the record. These developments put Vandring at the forefront of the band’s work. Black metal so often becomes just a monolithic wall of sound that allows for no compromise, but Nattverd have found a way to balance the ferocious blasts with something more epic.
It’s the soundscapes, though, inside which listeners can truly become lost. The exciting sound-worlds crafted here truly capture the imagination. Even from the album opener "Det bloer paa alt som spirer," it's clear that these guys are on a different level. The groaned vocals that dominate the outro breed a sense of terror, hinting at the depths of madness that Vandring is about to plumb. When merged together, each element of the record helps to build an expansive sense of terror, creating a truly special atmosphere. From the awe-striking violence of storms to the gruesome terror of the Black Plague, there's more at play here than skilled musicians playing fast. "Martyer av kristus," for example, is stunning in its ability to conjure up pure sonic darkness.
Though it marks the end of an era, I sincerely hope that Vandring only opens the door for another. Nattverd have consistently proven that they are an atavistic force. The music here pays tribute to black metal in the grand old style, providing a firm foundation, but it is the band's willingness to craft some of their most dynamic work to date that brings it to the next level. Their inventiveness gives a meaning to the overarching aura behind the music and ensures that listeners will remain enamored with the execution.
Vandring released April 30th via Osmose Productions.