Valborg - "Wisdom from the Vortex"

. . .

Germany is where it's at in black metal now. Labels like Zeitgeister (Valborg, Klabautamann, Woburn House) and Ván (The Ruins of Beverast, Vulvark, Verdunkeln) and bands like Bethlehem, Dark Fortress, Endstille, Secrets of the Moon, and Semen Datura are producing some of the freshest, most interesting black metal today. I wouldn't call it a "scene," as I've seen little evidence that these camps are in league. But I do see a thread running through many of these bands: "artsiness". I don't mean that as a pejorative. Whether through post-punk, doom, or other influences, a sense of elegance leavens the attack. American black metal has a good deal of artsiness, too, but the Germans tend to have more backbone and to do it better.

Valborg are my favorite band out of this crop. I learned of them last year through Tom G. Warrior's blog. They've since become one of my favorite metal bands. They embody a rare combination of aesthetics: minimalism and atmosphere, but with power and rhythm. (Did anyone see them at Roadburn this year? If so, how was it?***) A huge Godflesh influence informs the guitars, with hints of Killing Joke and Celtic Frost - which makes sense, since those bands were big influences on Justin Broadrick. In Crown of Sorrow, which came out earlier this year, this plays out dramatically. The record has no tremolo picking that I could detect - notes ring out with Broadrickian singularity - but it is very much black metal. (Interestingly, Valborg identify themselves on MySpace as "Death Metal / Gothic / Rock".) This refutes the perception that black metal is some formula of tremolo picking + blastbeats + corpsepaint. Valborg do use blastbeats and corpsepaint. But even their use of the latter is minimal. In the above video for "Wisdom from the Vortex", they avoid "panda paint" and instead look like the Blue Man Group of the underworld.

. . .

. . .

Good luck trying to find Crown of Sorrow in North America, however. Aquarius Records is the only distributor for it here, and as of this afternoon, they had one copy left. (Order it here!) I asked Zeitgeister if some digital purchase option were available. The response: "I think I can rule out a digital option, since we're all old school guys and we hate the sale of digital music. People have to buy physical copies from us, CD's/vinyl including artwork, booklet, etc., or they have to steal the MP3's from the Internet. We're idealists". So, no digital option and one CD left for purchase in North America. I've never seen a label less interested in distribution! You can buy from Zeitgeister directly here, and stream a sampler of their offerings, including selections from upcoming releases, here. I highly recommend checking out the sampler. It's a good way to familiarize yourself with one of the most vital black metal labels today.

Crown of Sorrow is still doing my head in, but Valborg already have a new song called "Battlefield of Souls", from an album called Barbarian out next year. You can stream it below. (The Justin Broadrick and Tom G. Warrior influences are very upfront.) Stream the rest of the songs, too. They're some of the best metal out there right now.

— Cosmo Lee

. . .

*** Raw and powerful, evidently. You can stream Valborg's set at Roadburn here.

. . .

. . .