I’m always interested in bands that rise from the ashes of other bands. We hear about it all the time: four original members from one band go onto form their own band, bringing fans of the original band untold joy, because that band hasn’t put out a record in twelve years. In the case of Russian doom act Scald, it was the unfortunate death of the band’s lead vocalist that led its remaining members to Tumulus, which plays folk metal based on Slavic mythology. Fast-forward to 2016, and those same original Scaldians have now formed Intothecrypt, fusing these styles together by playing blackened death-doom in English and Ancient Russian, with Finno-Urgic influences informing both the story and the language. With a concept as loaded as the style, Vakor, the band’s debut has a lot to live up to already.
“Blackened death-doom” may be a loaded concept, but one thing is certainly implied: riffs. These are three styles of music that are all pretty heavy, whether through crushing skill, crushing speed, or just general crushing. So you can imagine my disappointment when I began opener “Si Mas Ver – This Is My Place” to discover that the guitars aren’t exactly prominent in the mix. In fact, they’re downright quiet. Throughout the opener, the guitars are drowned out by the vocals, the folk-instrument textures, and even the cymbals. While I like the style, it’s simply too difficult to focus on what the guitars are doing most of the time, putting me in a rather awkward spot as a listener: I like what I’m hearing, but I’m having trouble hearing it. A similar issue brings down the title track. “Vakor” has a lot of variety to it, shifting from heavy, death-like passages to soaring instrumental sections textured with flutes and female cleans. Again, this would be great, except the song as a whole lacks immediacy and fails to really make an impact.
A poor production with stellar songwriting is something that can be overlooked, of course, but there’s a second issue at play here that really hurts my ability to enjoy Vakor. Ilia “Velingor” Timashev spends the majority of the album’s runtime decorating it with raspy roars that unfortunately do more harm than good for the album as a whole. It’s not that he’s a poor vocalist, but he can be monochromatic at times. Unlike the instruments behind him, Velingor does enjoy prominence in the mix, appearing far louder than any other element of the album’s sound. Between too-quiet guitars and loo-loud roaring, Vakor sounds aggravatingly generic throughout most of its hour-long runtime, which feels quite a bit longer. And I don’t mean aggravating because it’s a bad album, but rather because it could have been so much more. “Yavi Sya, Merek!” is a strong song, introducing clean vocals and building up to a powerful climax. It further utilizes guitar leads prominently that greatly benefit the song’s memorability, and is a good example of the Intothecrypt formula working well.
And when that formula does work well, it works really well. “Leto, Voy Nash!” is a gem, powerful and memorable. It emphasizes the band’s folkier—albeit still suitably dark—side with a strong keyboard presence, along with backing vocals, and flutes that follow the morose leads beautifully. The whispered vocals are a strong compliment to the music, and an example of much-needed variety in that department. Closer “Into The Crypt” is similarly affecting, again leaning on leads and flutes alongside the band’s usual arsenal. When Intothecrypt fully employ their folk side, they create multi-dimensional, affecting pieces that linger in the memory and reward repeat listens.
So it truly is a shame that the “blackened death-doom” side of the band comes across as neither blackened, deathed, or doomed enough to really shine, because this is an album that screams of unrealized potential. As is, I doubt I’ll be returning to it much, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a band to look out for in the future. They’ve got a cool idea, a solid foundation, and a lot of skill. Vakor isn’t quite the culmination of these things I’d hoped it would be, though it is good enough that I’ll be back for the next one for sure.