Monday, August 19, 2013

Vallendusk - Black Clouds Gathering (2013)

In the year since their debut EP was released, the members of Vallendusk haven't been resting comfortably in an armchair stuffed with money, waiting for the next royalty check to come in the mail. After the release of the aforementioned self titled opus, there was no room to become complacent and just ride the small ripple they had made.  To the contrary, this Indonesian four piece have done more than their share of work, fine tuning and honing their sound, in hopes of becoming a force in the world of black metal. But hard work is only truly successful if done in all the right places. This isn't to say that every issue must be corrected post haste, but in the crowded arena of black metal, time wasted could be a career wasted. So with a miniscule twelve months at their disposal, the pressure was on to tighten the screws, add a layer of polish, and get these seven new songs onto digital storage. It may sound easy enough, but the process is anything but. After a year of blood, sweat, and distortion, "Black Clouds Gathering" is the final result for a band who deserve it.

There is an immediate and noticeable change as "Fragments of Light" introduces some much more rich and flowing melodic elements to the mix, something that was far too often obscured on their previous work. In addition, a more focused and clear effort in both production and mixing allows all of the pieces to shine through, rather than be buried in a muddled mess of levels and layers. It results in an interesting dynamic between refined instrumental, and raw vocal line, something that actually works in this instance. The proportionate chunk that begins just before and ends shortly after the seven minute mark is suitable representation of the new Vallendusk sound, clear and polished. Finding balance, though, becomes the biggest challenge. The band are up to the task on "To Wander and Beyond," which is a versatile and varied offering, despite being disguised early as a blackened thrasher. Along with the improvements to the mix, each individual instrumental performance is crisper than before, with the screws tightened in every facet. The drumming, which may seem to be standard black metal fare, is far more detailed and precise, becoming a rock to build upon. The outro section becomes a signature moment for a band in need of one, and having now found their place in the sun, "Shades of Grey" becomes an anthem, far exceeding their catalog to date. Both melodic and bruisingly heavy, it works on all levels.

Unlike the debut EP, the monumental track lengths here don't compromise the integrity of the song, or the album as a whole. The main guitar line on "Into The Mist" is catchy enough to draw you further in, while still surrounded with enough chaos to keep you invested as the track moves into minutes seven, eight, and nine. It also leaves room for the almost dreamlike interludes the band may become known for. It isn't until "Among The Giants" that the folk element comes to the fore, with a guitar lead that is both uptempo and a catchy hook. It will stand out to many first time listeners, as it provides a respite from the sound that flows through most of the album. It's tone is not a one-off, as "Realms of The Elder" has a very similar pressing nature, but in a much different dynamic. The speed remains high, as it has throughout the album, but the band strays from the mainline here, delivering a shockingly high energy track. As the screams become more intense and more insistent, so does the music behind them. It all comes to a head on the closing track, the massive thirteen minute "Land of The Lurking Twilight." They've saved a lot of their best melodic moments for last here, choosing contrast over one side of the spectrum. For every pummeling drum roll, there is a fleeting acoustic guitar to balance it out. With an extended outro of stripped down melodies, they leave an sizable imprint in your memory.

We were not quiet about what we perceived to be deficiencies in the debut release from Vallendusk; the track ran on well past their welcome, and the production work left so much to be desired. But rarely do you see a band make such great strides to fine tune everything about their sound, all in the short span of a year. They've improved their balance, and focused more on the small, subtle touches that can take an album, and a band, from relative obscurity to world wide curiosity. Undoubtedly, the result is proportionate to the amount of time, effort and work that has gone into their development. And while I am sure Vallendusk haven't reached their full potential as of yet, they have certainly risen to the occasion here. The difference is uncanny, all while staying true to the sound they unveiled a mere twelve months ago. Whether this is the storm they reference in the albums title, or if this is only the beginning of a fruitful career to come, "Black Clouds Gathering" is an album with all the style and substance of a summer thunderstorm.


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