Vardan Winter Woods 01There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Imagine if Agalloch had released Pale FolkloreThe Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain over a four-month period. These are all great albums and given time, you can appreciate every glorious nuance that makes them the timeless beauties they are. But over such a condensed period, crammed together, each vying for your attention, you appreciate absolutely nothing and eventually they gather dust. This is the problem that plagues the “busiest man in black metal.” Since releasing Enjoy of Deep Sadness back in 2014, Vardan‘s gone on to release four albums in around as many months with a fifth just on the horizon. Now, I get wanting to be productive, but this is just absurd. I’m at the point where Monday rumbles in and I check my e-mail to see if a new Vardan promo arrived. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight. At any rate, I’ve spent a good few weeks ruminating over Vardan‘s latest albums and I’ve done my damnedest to review each one of them. For this little exercise in patience and determination, I should collect some kind of research fee – if you can’t self-edit your work, then pay me to do it!

Only a short spell into Winter Woods, you’ll notice that the album falls solidly into those years between Agalloch‘s The Mantle and Ashes Against the Grain. “Winter Woods Part 1” creeps in with painstaking slowness on a siren-like scream that sounds an awful lot like the opening to Agalloch‘s “Limbs” and the successive icy melody reeks of the very same influence.

Once again Vardan‘s changed up his vocal delivery to suit the nature of the album and for most of the opening track and what follows his tone has a wind-like chill. There’s a single instance on “Winter Woods Part 1” where you’re introduced to the clearer side of Vardan‘s dry croak, and lo and behold lyrics flow in and out of earshot,. It’s a fleeting but welcome surprise. Around the album midpoint (“Uroborus Black Circle”), Vardan drops vocals that sound cavernous, engulfing and dense, bringing to mind a grittier John Haughm (Agalloch) turned up to 11 before falling back into his usual droning anguished cries.


Of the five tracks that make up Winter Woods there’s barely a moment when you’re not reminded of Agalloch in some way shape or form, from the graceful and stark entrance of “Uroborus Black Circle,” to the stifling wintery guitar melodies that backbone “Cold Night of My Soul” and beyond. This is great and I’m a huge fan of Agalloch‘s sound, but by this point in the advanced depth of Vardan‘s discography I want more of his own personality to shine through with only a smattering of his influences providing nuance here and there. In general Winter Woods feels safe and comfortable going against what black metal, and more specifically, depressive black metal’s all about.

This leads me to another problem with Winter Woods – the subtleties which differentiate one track from the next. It often feels as if every single thought Vardan experiences needs to be expressed musically. A little like those friends on social media who compulsively photograph their breakfast, lunch, dinner and possibly their midnight snack too. It feels like oversharing, like you’re intruding in his personal space, like less would be more and that’s no more obvious than 5:34 into “The Cry of Dying Forests” where the guitar pickings just sound so random and unnecessary before this overly long track makes a harsh exit.

Despite the negatives, I really enjoyed Winter Woods. I experienced no ear-bleeding loudness issues, the production seemed consistently DIY, in line with both my expectations and with Vardan‘s earlier albums. Imagine my surprise when I see the DR reading and it comes back as a lowly 1 [A new record, yay!Steel Druhm]! I’m at a loss on this. Maybe the gents at MetalFi will have some insight into how this can be. At any rate, consider this your fill of Vardan for some time to come. Going forward, Vardan‘s reviews will be aggregated into “The Year-end Vardan Report” since no one can keep up with his release schedule.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 1 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Moribund Records
Release Dates: EU: 2015.07.10 | NA: 07.07.2015

Vardan SAD 01S.A.D. (Storm at Dawn) – This, the first of Vardan‘s 2015 releases has the lost, forgotten and sad spirit stepping beyond his depressive roots, chanelling ambient based riffs that borrow a little from the back catalogue of Burzum. There’s an increased energy on S.A.D. that underlies the dragging emotions of the four-track offering. “Dying Daylight”‘s impending tragedy and the circulating doubt of “Obscure Rumours” are a precursor to “Blacker Than Light”  – S.A.D.‘s big crusher. From the onset, “Blacker Than Light” rattles your consciousness with fuzzed-out, upbeat melody and indistinct tortured howls that swim in and out of earshot, feeling brighter and more intense than anything Vardan‘s done before. The weirdly layered drum interludes, mimicking a miss-timed heartbeat, leave me very edgy and whether this was intentional or not is of no consequence as it certainly leaves a lasting impression that’s only slightly diluted by the Agalloch-like closer – “Storm at Dawn.”

Vardan Versus from Anchient Times 01Verses from Ancient Times – Well Vardan found a way to reduce the risk of ESL song title snaffoos here. Each of the (wisely) numbered tracks follows the upbeat path of S.A.D. while remaining unassuming with the murky blackened traits you’ve come to expect from a Vardan album. Vardan‘s vocals disconcertingly veer into the range of Maniac (Skitliv and ex-Mayhem) from time to time, but of the four tracks, II proves the most entertaining with its hints to the frostbitten ancient ways of early black metal wrapped in a cinching black ‘n roll embrace. I’m left wondering at the end of this album, whether S.A.D. and Verses from Ancient Times shouldn’t have been released as a single album with only the strongest of the strong making the cut.

Vardan The Night The Loneliness 01The Night, The Loneliness – Don’t be alarmed, this album really does begin with Part 2. Playing out like the hush of night, this is considerably slower than what Vardan put out in the earlier part of the year and along with the subtle, barely there vocals you quickly find yourself in a dreamlike, reflective state with this one. Out of character for Vardan, he’s included entrancing keyboard interludes, with each of these moments of clarity dancing in and out of the boundaries of electronica, giving the album a melancholic melodiousness that during Part 4 and 5 leaves you feeling quite heartbroken. This is the perfect album to put on when your mind is racing and you need sleep.

Vardan Despicable Broken Hope 01Despicable Broken Hope – In amongst Vardan‘s strangled wailings, this album is largly focussed on hauntingly delicate Agalloch and Ulver-like guitar melodies that ring out clearly from each track. There’s not a bad song on the album but there’s also none that stand out as particularly remarkable. If you’re looking for good old-timey black metal slowed to a crawl, built around simple, frighteningly honest musical arrangements with heavily brooding atmosphere, then Despicable Broken Hope‘s depressive bleakness is the way to go.

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  • manimal

    He who dies with the lowest DR score…


  • Onward to DR0!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      My Satan, that’s so bizarre. It’d be interesting to hear what this would sound like as DR14, for comparison’s sake.


    • Ahwesome!

    • Martin Knap

      but all titles are better than Enjoy of Deep Sadness, including Despicable Broken Hope

      • I think S. A. D. was uncomfortably close, though.

        • Martin Knap

          “sad”, now I get it. yeah, that’s bad.

    • Wow, can’t fathom how spell check missed that! This one’s all on me sadly.

      • I thought he meant to spell it like that when I edited it! Fhail!

        • Lol, I must have looked at it half a dozen times and just figured that he meant to spell it that way too. At least when I’m wrong I’m constantly wrong.

      • Ohhh, I thought that was on him! Haha.

  • Noctus

    I have actually seen a DR0 track. Untitled 6 by Aigro Mucifelam from the album Lost Sounds Depraved. Whole album is also a DR1.

    • Also black metal I see. Was it listenable?

      • Noctus

        Well the music itself almost sounded like he was trying to replicate noisy static so… kinda?

        • That get’s me interested. I’ll have to check it out.

        • I’m seriously starting to think Vardan did this on purpose to harsh up his sound. His vocals sound more severe and the music itself is a little harder, it certainly goes with the Winter theme of the album.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            If I wants me some Winter, I takes meself to Paysage d’Hiver.

        • That’s why as I mentioned to X, drone can have seriously low DR scores. Imagine trying to master two or three notes for 5 minutes at a time that going no where (dynamically or otherwise).

  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    This unicornicated artwork should actually be a movie. I’d watch that.

    • Me too!

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        I honestly think this is the only way we can get a proper Robocop reboot.

        • Vardan for Robocop… Occupy AMG!

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            Btw, we need an “Occupy AMG” shirt made.

          • Seconded!

    • Martin Knap

      If they get tits somehow into the picture I’m sold.

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        Careful what you wish for. You know Steel is always up for a challenge.

        • Martin Knap

          I’m sure he is. It would be delightfully plebeian.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        No such unmentionables, but you got yourself some butt-roasted Robocop. It must get painful when the metal starts glowing, [breaks into song] “Glowing like the Metal…”.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Oh, the Unicorn artwork. So Homeric, so moving. I’ve found the tattoo I was looking for.

    • Celaeno

      unicornicated…good word. i’m going to start using this regularly as an adjective.

      • Dr. A.N. Grier

        I’m a human adjective.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    My head is full of fuck. At everything in this article.

    • Not enjoying of this deep sadness?

      • André Snyde Lopes

        No, I am, in fact, enjoying of deep weirdness.

        • I support weirdness.

          • André Snyde Lopes

            I do, too. Doesn’t mean I GET any of it.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    The artwork could also be interpreted as a Counter-Reformation representation of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The white, bright Holy Spirit (Unicorn) is lifting Mary (Robocop) heavenwards as the Devil (Dragon) menaces her. The transsexing of Robocop is confirmed by his posture — I mean, come on, look how he’s holding his hands; it’s like the Moro reflex, or like a Toddler on a coin-operated kiddie ride. The Unicorn’s gaze is directed at the viewer, and seems to say not “and you think you’re having a bad day”, but rather, look upon the Mother of God and think upon your sins.

    There’s also a Benny Hill interpretation, which has to do with how Robocop is “riding” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) the Unicorn, while the Dragon’s “fire” is entering Robocop’s back door . A threesome, in other words, but I’m not going to go there.

    • Dude! Mind. Blown.

    • Lol I’m still reeling after reading that.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Dude… get help… please…

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Monsterth Goatom and I are doing just fine, thank you.

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Yep, that’s what I was afraid of…

    • Doomdeathrosh

      Well I was going to say “Final Fantasy”…..but you have gone for the OTHER fantasy!

  • I tip my fedora to your dedication Madam X, but you know that this means you have become the official AMG Vardan reviewer, right?

  • Kronos

    “enjoy of shallow dynamic range”

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      haha damn I was going to say that

  • Alexandre Barata

    I kinda enjoy this, and I believe the low DR doesn’t even hurt the songs at all, for so simple they really are (might even not have compressed the songs so much at all, just created some white noise on the back for atmosphere and shit, ence the DR so low)… Fuck me, right?

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    These are the trvest, grymmest, coldest, blackest releases of the year.
    – Pentagram with goat of Mendes? Check.
    – Grayscale album art featuring forests / abandoned old buildings? Check.
    – Album titles in Old English Text MT? Check.
    – Awful fuzzy production? Check.
    – Songs labelled with Roman numerals? Check.

    I bet Vardan wishes he recorded it in the grymm forests of Norvvay too.

    • Only took him 5 releases to check all the boxes!

    • Grymm

      …I have forests in Norway?

      *checks flights from Jacksonville to Norway, cries*

      • Refined-Iron Cranium

        You have your own air-conditioner setting too. Grymm should become a trademark as a scale for vltimate kvlt brvtality.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    If he is of drumming again I will not be partaking of…

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    This is Pulitzer worthy commitment to the bit. So…#OccupyPulitzer? AMG could enjoy of deep journalistic achievement!

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Despicable Broken Hope? I thought the artwork would feature some minions drawn by Wes Benscoter.

  • Divyang Thakur

    Putrid wanna be trash