From Vardan to Valdur, the jump doesn’t seem huge from a naming perspective, but in terms of what the two bands offer, the chasm couldn’t be wider. Hailing from a small mountain town in the beating heart of the Sierra Mountains where the Death Valley desert meets Mt. Whitney, Valdur drew its first rattling breath back in 2005 with a short independently released demo. Their self-titled full-length came knocking two years later, followed by a rotting horde of splits, singles and another full-length or two. I’ve got no prior experience with the band, but from the stench and tumbleweeds wafting around, I can gleam that their sound began as blackened death, shifting towards more straight up black metal around the mid-point, with the latter part of their discography resurrecting more death. What I can tell you is that if you go all fanboy over Bathory‘s The Return… then Pathetic Scum could be the return you’ve been waiting for.
As for myself, I can’t say I’ve been all that enamoured. “Tank Torture” thunders in with a derivative and repetitive intro riff and as was the way with Bathory‘s early works, Matthew rides the high hat and rides it hard. The track fluctuates between blasting along bombastically full steam ahead and meandering lost, dazed and confused in gloomy slowness. Neither of these changes in pace mask that the track feels stapled together like a big hulking Frankenstein, pulled together from recycled moments of Marduk, Autopsy, Mayhem and of course Bathory. Things are further handicapped because the song goes on for an excessively long nine minutes. This far outweighs even Bathory‘s lengthier early track, “Born for Burning” and it’s a mistake. Vocally this album’s a mystery. Roskva is credited with live vocals, but studio vocals are not credited to anybody. Whoever graces Pathetic Scum has the same shadowy, deep growls as Mike Meacham (Loss), and his similarly styled croaks were instrumental in keeping me listening to this hefty body of work.
The remaining tracks are considerably shorter than the opening, but they all suffer the very same calamity, musically they’re more boring than not and all hit a point where you just want them to stop, and while they show indications of ending, they don’t. Even the Ex Deo-like roars and A Forest of Stars shrieks of He Who Shall Not Be Named do little to save “Impending Doom” and “Blessings Of The Goat.” The weirded out electronic interlude in “Incantre Pt. II,” when added to the basement jam session atmosphere the senseless monstrosity exudes, does nothing to redeem something that shouldn’t be. It’s listed as being part two and judging by its haphazard nature, I’m glad Valdur had the sense to discard part one.
And finally we reach “Morbid Emanations” which starts off with a subtly familiar intro that has you scratching your head. And then it hits you, you’re waiting for Jon Bon Jovi’s wail to ring out with “Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike. He’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough…” Of course that’s not what busts out of your speakers, but it’s a close call for a while. The guitar work on this one reminds me of the weirdness Bathory packed into “The Wind Of Mayhem” and while it’s a fun surprise, it’s hardly enough to keep me coming back.
It’s the title track that ends up standing at the pulpit, playing the savior of the album. It’s built around a melody that just sounds so simply Marduk I can’t help but enjoy it. And though the hulking opening roar could stand being slightly higher in this murky 1980’s mix, it remains impacting and engulfing in equal measures. Bigger and more dramatic guitar-work, more moments of greatness and a track length that works for it rather than against it – I’m left wondering why Valdur didn’t give me more of this! At any rate, after slogging through this album more times than I probably should have, I’m left thinking that outside of “Pathetic Scum” and some parts of “Impending Doom” this is not The Return… I was looking for.