Cross Vault – As Strangers We Depart Review

There are certain key words and taglines that all but guarantee your friendly stronghold Steel will seize a promo as his own, jealously guarding it from interlopers, pretenders and would-be promo usurpers. Putting “Viking doom” in your promo blurb alongside reference to Bathory is one such way to score a hard ticket to the iron reviewing table. Germany’s Cross Vault have been toiling away in relative obscurity since 2014, heavily influenced by acts like Warning and crafting downcast material that often feels like a follow up to that act’s monumental Watching from a Distance opus. By 2015 a heavier, more grandiose sound made an appearance alongside the Warning-isms, somewhat justifying Viking era Bathory comparisons. After 4 years of silence, third album As Strangers We Depart sees the band once again searching for that perfect blend of doom, gloom and epic sounds. Warning still seems a core influence, but now it’s shored up even more solidly by stoic sounds reminiscent of Bathory, Ereb Altor and SIG:AR:TYR. Not the worst company if you’re enlisting a raiding party. Count me in and pass the grog.

As the nearly nine minutes of opener “Golden Mending” plods across snow-covered vistas, battle axe in hand, the Bathory-isms pound like a war drum. The riffs have weight and impact and somehow bear both an epic sensibility and an allegiance to the mope-doom perfected by Warning. Vocalist Nerrath bellows his lines with mucho manliness, his voice drifting from hoarse roars to smoother cleans, effective on both ends of the spectrum. There’s a touch of Primordial‘s A.A. Nemtheanga in his delivery and when paired with the song’s somber, melancholic harmonies, very good things happen. While the song could be shorter, there’s a certain gravitas that keeps you locked in. Better still is “The Unknown Rewinds” which mines the best Viking doom gold of SIG:AR:TYR with weepy leads and beautifully despairing harmonies wrapped around every grave marker. The guitar-work is thoroughly disheartening and Nerrath’s clean singing carries just enough machismo to keep things epic. There’s a subdued beauty and power to the music that really resonates and it’s the kind of doom tune I could spin and re-spin all day.

“Gods Left Unsung” keeps the sad times rolling with a more urgent bent that still leaves plenty of space for despair and grief. There’s a vague whiff of Fvneral Fvkk in the pacing and riff-structure, mixed with more than a little SIG:AR:TYR-style droning doom magic. All the moving parts coalesce into a classic doom number with a potent punch. Also of note is closing instrumental “Silent Wastes Untrod” which winds the album out beautifully in a ghostly post-metal meets epic doom exhibition that demands rapt attention. As Strangers We Depart is an album on the razor edge of greatness, only held back by very minor issues. “Other Rivers” is a good doom song recalling early Solitude Aeturnus, but it goes on about two minutes too long, and short interlude “Ravines” adds little to the overall experience. I love the 43:21 runtime though, which keeps the album from feeling too long-winded and ponderous. I also love the production, which puts a lot of weight on the guitars while providing a punchy drum sound to support them. In fact, the drum sound here is a lot like the one heard on Candlemass‘ classic Epicus Doomiscus Metallicus debut.

I’m highly impressed by the performances of guitarists “G.” and “M.” Bashful though they may be, they weave one haunting melody after another, keeping the riffs heavy when they aren’t sadly trilling away for lost friends and loves. Even when their approach borders on simplistic they adorn the leads with enough weepy harmonies and flourishes to keep you drowning in rich, creamy lament lather. There’s some truly beautiful stuff here thanks to their depressive handiwork. Nerrath also acquits himself well, adroitly blending quasi-harsh and clean vocals as the moment demands. He isn’t what I would call a gifting singer in the classic sense, but he gets the most out of his limited range and rarely did I find myself wishing for something more than what he delivered. I’m also a fan of the drumming by “Skullsplitter.” He nails the classic doom style and when the material allows, brings that epic Viking sound home to conquer and burn your aural village.

I liked As Strangers We Depart from the first spin, and with replays I came to really appreciate the nuances hidden within the material. Blending classic doom with epic Viking metal is no simple proposition, but Cross Vault have done an admirable job merging the genres. This is an insidious grower and you should reserve time for it to grow on you. Stranger danger is overhyped anyway.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Iron Bonehead
Websites: crossvault.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/crossvaultband
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

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