Steel Druhm has become increasingly disillusioned with black metal over the past year or two. Apparently I’ve reached the saturation point where all the Dimmu Borgir wannabes started to sound just like all the Emperor wannabes and so on ad nauseum. There’s a clear stagnation in the scene and only the best are able to rise above the fetid swamps of mediocrity. Thankfully, into this dark morass comes a beacon of light by the name of Aurvandil with their debut Yearning. Hailing from France, Aurvandril is the brainchild and creation of founder and sole performer Aurvandil (although he apparently used a session drummer here). Mr. A is deeply entrenched in the traditional sounds and ethos of Norwegian blackness and Yearning freely references the great works of Burzum, Emperor and Enslaved while also offering a refreshing take on what came before. Its clearly a sound and style rooted in the 90’s but for whatever reason, the execution feels fresh, engaging and highly impressive. Equal parts punishing and beautifully melodic, it has a sweeping, epic atmosphere that one can’t help but appreciate. It’s good enough to partially offset my black metal malaise so he/they must be doing something right!
After a well done acoustic introduction, Aurvandil whisks you off to the icy Nordic wastelands with “End of an Age.” Featuring a raw, unapologetic low-fi sound, it kicks off with a mid-paced stomp that will have your head bobbing. The muted riffs lock in and grind away as Mr. A. cackles and howls in the background, largely sounding like a voice on the wind. At the 2:00 mark, he begins using a high pitched, forlorn lead riffing/soloing style that immediately grabs you by the throat. Its often beautiful and frantic at the same time and its always ice cold. If there was ever a riffing style that sounded like a frozen landscape, this is it. In fact, the way the guitar is mixed, the notes sound as if they’re descending upon you from the mountain. At 2:44 these icy, haunting leads are joined by crazed blast beats and the effect is brilliant. On “Reign of Ice” they go for the same effect but incorporate soft acoustic strumming alongside the shrill guitar and blast beats. Throughout this song I was frequently reminded of the classic period of Bathory, especially as it song winds down. The epic “A Guide to Northern Scapes” chills you with a succession of amazingly conceived blackened riffs that will haunt you for days (my favorite coming at 5:01). The rest of Yearning is equally as strong and impressive.
It should be clear by now it’s Mr. A’s guitar work that makes Yearning shine. Whether its the top-notch riffing or the soft acoustic interludes he weaves in, the man knows his stuff and never overdoes it. His vocals are nothing to sneeze at either. He uses a variety of effective cackles and howls throughout and while he isn’t bringing anything revolutionary to black metal vocals, he makes sure they add to the mood of the songs. The production is very raw and muddy, approaching the level of the early Burzum albums. As lustily low-fi as it gets, it was the right choice here. Its one of the few albums that actually sounds like the music is floating through a winter storm toward you and that really adds to the overall vibe. I can’t imagine this being as effective with a Cradle of Filth production level or the symphonic masturbation that’s in vogue these days.
That brings me to another point. This is one of those albums meant to be listened to as a whole. In some ways its like The Mantle by Agalloch. It loses something when heard in parts or as separate tracks. When heard from start to finish, it really washes over you in a major way and takes you places (scary places).
Yearning is certainly a diamond in the rough and a welcome breath of fresh air in the scene. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, just takes the best parts from its past and cobbles together something like a homage. Long time fans of the style will smile often as this plays along and if you’re like me, it may take you back to when all this seemed new and intense. What more can we ask for at this point? A frigid triumph.