I’ve recently become more and more impressed by the wave of black metal emerging from the United States. Offering a wide range of stylistic influences and creativity, our domestic take on the genre has pushed black metal in unprecedented directions, providing much-appreciated complexity to a genre that has, at times, been rather straightforward. Enter Vanum. With their debut LP, Realm of Sacrifice, the band continues to push the genre forward while simultaneously taking us back through its origins. In its wake, we are left with one of the more memorable albums of the year so far.
For those unaware, Vanum arose from the minds of K. Morgan (Ash Borer) and M. Rekevics (Fell Voices), among others. Being two of the more respected members of the underground black metal scene, plenty of anticipation had surrounded this release. And Realm of Sacrifice has certainly lived up to that hype. From the outset of “Realm of Ascension,” you can tell the fundamentals of black metal are kept well intact. This is a dark, atmospheric sound from the very beginning, and it stays true to the ways that many of us define black metal. The cadence is furiously rhythmic and the leads are comprised of tremolo runs that incorporate all ends of the fretboard, switching from higher to lower tones effortlessly. It gives the album an incredibly enchanting personality, despite its endless levels of darkness. But when the vocals eventually kick in with all their echoing emotion, the sound takes off even further, becoming ever more encompassing.
The album covers its entire 42 minutes in only four tracks. With no track shorter than eight minutes, you know each will offer plenty of time changes and offer segments that focus in on the importance of repetition. The aforementioned opener emphasizes this well, moving frequently between relentless and melodic feels before its final five minutes transition from deliberate leads right back to the tremolo picking we opened with. “In Immaterial Flame” and “Convergence” offer similar deviation—both starting easy, and then intensifying throughout with only brief retreats to their melodic origins. Each has a prolonged instrumental interlude, yet at no point does the sound begin to feel repetitive. The frequent change in tones in the leads coupled with a rather diverse percussive pattern give us an atmospheric nature to the sound is captivating throughout, even if some of the stylistic qualities are rather familiar.
The most ambitious track, however, may be the eponymous closer. No other track stops and starts so dramatically, yet still feels so organic. “Realm of Sacrifice” offers perhaps the album’s most deliberate moments, with added emphasis on the vocals. Up to this point, the vocals had acted as more of a complement to the overall sound, but when the pace picks up here, they reaches a new found level of intensity. Eventually, the track fades out—the guitars retreating slowly into the distance, focusing on each note and each moment, and closing things out exactly as they should.
From start to finish, Realm of Sacrifice gives us even more of a reason to focus on the black metal scene of the United States. This is an incredible display that finds the intersection of darkness, atmosphere, and melody…and delivers it effortlessly. It’s an album you’ll both appreciate immediately and gain greater respect for with each successive listen. As a result, Vanum have completely thrown themselves towards the top of the black metal list for 2015. And to think this is only a debut…
“Ein Bier… bitte.”