When I think of blackened Viking metal with influences from prominent Satan-centric places on this great Earth – such as Norway and France – I don’t necessarily think of New Hampshire. I’m no expert in American history so maybe there were bountiful Viking raids on picturesque seaside towns like Seabrook, but I can’t be sure about that. Nonetheless, Cold Northern Vengeance comes bearing gifts of such blackened Viking metal from their cheerful home town in the form of Maelstrom. Should you take note?
Cold Northern Vengeance hit on a pleasingly familiar vein of black metal, yet integrate a few variances on that orthodox sound to carve a little niche for themselves. Aggressive trem-picking and blast-beating typical of black metal is produced with a slightly modern flavor which works well without defiling the buzzy guitar tones and lo-fi production favored in the genre. This is most evident on the opening to “The Darkness of Once Was.” Indeed, this core is bolstered with nods to developments over the past 20 years, including somewhat atmospheric song transitions and folky tendencies à la Bergtatt, fairly prominent melodies adopted by post-Norwegian black metal, particularly on “Pierced by the Tree” and “Seeker of Secrets.” They even include dissonant flourishes and something close to a wall of noise on “Seeker of Secrets,” popularized by French bands such as Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord. Indeed, the concluding track “Paradox” is entirely atmospheric, and thus closer to atmospheric US black metal.
Advertised as Viking metal on their promo sheet, the clearest demonstration of longboat-fervor are the baritone cleans which occupy most of the tracks on Maelstrom. While there are shrieked vocals, they’re relatively infrequent as Viking chants take center-stage. This is a neat idea and differentiates Cold Northern Vengeance from their competitors, but they become a little passionless as the album progresses and the same somber chants accompany whichever little twist on the formula is being incorporated. More emotive chants or a better split with extreme vocals would improve the music. “Eye of the Storm” bears the strongest Viking characteristics, with echoing chords to begin and a vaguely epic mid-section. In addition, the atmospherics of “Paradox” are punctuated with the distant cries and clangs of battle, reinforcing this inclination.
There isn’t much directly wrong with Maelstrom. The melodic riffs are solid without undermining their kvlt origins by veering into anything too sensitive, and “Seeker of Secrets” and “The Darkness of Once Was” are the clear highlights, offering the best examples of their Viking and blackened influences. But as before, the baritone cleans lose their shine after a couple of tracks, are overused, and lack dominant force to grab the listener’s attention. The quickly formulaic water sounds used as song transitions lack imagination, and the album falls flat around the middling third and fourth tracks. It just isn’t outstanding despite the positives, and I find myself without a reason to listen to this over many other black or Viking releases. There are plenty of records out there which aren’t bad but aren’t great and this is one of them. My listlessness is certainly exacerbated by the album’s limited dynamics which ensure the guitars require some effort to distinguish.
In all, there’s certainly talent and potential here but it’s not yet fully realized. Various forms of black metal are subtly integrated and the Viking chants over full-speed aggression would be good in smaller doses. But Maelstrom lacks the oomph to take it over the top, especially in an October replete with excellent releases. Another release, another year perhaps.