Nattverd – Vandring Review

It’s hard to think of an example of the third part of a trilogy being the best. Return of the Jedi? No way. Return of the King? Nope. Spider-Man 3? The Matrix Revolutions? Godfather Part III? It seems like the concluding chapter of these epic sagas never quite lives up to what preceded it. Just over a year ago, I reviewed Norwegian black metal band Nattverd’s sophomore album, Styggdom. Man, it had an awesome cover. The music, however, while maintaining a wonderfully oppressive atmosphere, simply dragged at times. It was too long, with too few actual riffs to sink your teeth into. Nattverd are now back, and have declared that their latest album, Vandring, is the concluding chapter in a trilogy that began with the EP Skuggen, with Styggdom forming the middle section. Considering my somewhat underwhelming response to Styggdom, expectations for Vandring to buck the trilogy trend were low. Well, once again, 2021 has surprised me. This is a noteworthy collection of aggressive, icy black metal, and a worthy conclusion to an abrasive trilogy.

Unless they directly comment, we never know for sure if bands actually read our reviews. But it sure does feel like Nattverd took a lot of my criticisms about their previous effort to heart, because Vandring addresses nearly all of them. It’s a tremendously improved effort as a result. The bloated run time has been cut down from 60 minutes to 40; the sound has been expanded beyond basic chords and recycled melodies; the aggression has been dialed up; the production generously improved. All of these have breathed new life into a project I really wasn’t all that excited about, but one I’m certainly taking notice of now. The only thing that’s worse is the generic album cover.

 

The most impressive aspect of Vandring is just what a notable evolution has occurred in Nattverd’s sound. They absolutely had the icy, Nordic aesthetic nailed down, but not much beyond that. This collection takes the atmosphere but adds some focused aggression to the mix. From the moment opener “Det bloer paa alt som spirer” comes barging out like an enraged bear, there’s a real sense of purpose and momentum here, which is carried through most of the album. The trimmed length ensures it never runs out of steam, and the improved riffage and melodies guarantees it never fades to background noise (a common criticism of earlier efforts). Aggression and atmosphere are great, but Nattverd has added a surprising amount of melody, tenderness and even black ‘n’ roll, as well. “Naar taken fortaerer alt” features an affecting and gentle piano juxtaposed with epic, soaring melodies. “I moerket slumrer ravnen” intersperses its traditional blast beats with galloping black ‘n’ roll. This variety, purpose and expansion of the core sound makes Vandring so much more interesting than its predecessors without compromising the gritty, abrasive sound of Norwegian fukkin’ black metal.

On the downside, despite the more streamlined running time, there are occasions when Nattverd still settles into a groove and becomes repetitive. The band is clearly still adjusting to its more expansive sound, and some great moments are not fully elaborated on. Like a cat dipping its paw in snow, and then immediately retreating, Nattverd sometimes touch, but then do not commit to, a new idea. “Martyrer av kristus” initially attempts a deconstruction of its basic structure, before abandoning that plan for comfortable blast beats. In “Det hvisker I veggene,” the band briefly considers trying blackgaze, then thinks better of it and retreats to its traditional style. Moments like these sometimes give the album a frustrating, slightly under-cooked feel.

Nevertheless, Vandring represents a significant evolution in the sound of Nattverd. It is also, unquestionably, their finest album. Where previous efforts seemed stuck in a meandering loop, Vandring is purposeful and streamlined while also expanding the band’s core sound into interesting new areas. Sure, there are growing pains, and this collection is far from perfect, but whereas I nearly passed this one up when it appeared in the promo bin, you can bet your ass I will be eagerly awaiting the next step. Somehow, they’ve bucked the trend by making the third in the trilogy the best.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Osmose Records
Websites: osmoseproductions.bandcamp.com/album/vandring  |  facebook.com/nattverdofficial/
Released Worldwide: April 30th, 2021

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