In 2014, Finnish three-headed beast Vainaja dropped a megaton bomb in the form of Kadotetut, leveling the ears of those who bore witness to their hymns, and placing themselves in a comfortable 3rd place spot on my year-end list with their mix of Celtic Frosty atmospherics and Asphyxiating tremolo doom. The story of a long-lost book of desecrations, sacrificial rites, and other blasphemous acts set to a bone-crushing doom/death backdrop, was both addictive and effective. Two years later, another tome has been unearthed, telling the backstory of preacherman and cult leader, Wilhelm. Verenvalaja (“blood caster” in Finnish) is a six-chapter scripture, further exploring the gruesome history of this three-man cult. Is the new chapter as engaging and heavy as the original, or has this cult of personality run out of ideas?
If “Risti” is any indication, Vainaja hasn’t let off the mammoth-heavy pressure one bit. Kristian’s riffs are still thick and warped, and Aukusti’s drumming is still pummeling and methodical in its approach. What has changed is the welcome addition of dynamics. There are melodies and leads peppered here-and-there, courtesy of guest guitarist Lasse Pyykkö (Hooded Menace), whose careful usage of notes evokes a feeling of dread and fear. There’s even some clean singing introduced, but rather than taking away from the heaviness of the music, they enhance the creepiness factor exponentially, giving the feeling of a choir singing the hymns of their perverse leader. Speaking of vocals, bassist Wilhelm’s guttural bellows sound even more grotesque, welcoming you to the bowels of Hell, and ensuring your stay is painful, chaotic, and permanent. In other words, all that made Kadotetut such a gruesome beast of an album has been upgraded significantly, and the additions to the formula make the end product that much more brutal, disturbed, and hideous.
There are no weak links on Verenvalaja, as each song has its purpose. The almost 11-minute standout “Usva” feels much, much shorter, thanks to some Type O Negative-esque singing (again, enhancing the weirdness factor) and an ambient middle section that fools the listener into thinking the song is over, before leveling heads once again for the final few minutes. “Kultti” features a bizarre keyboard melody about halfway into the song, giving an almost 70’s progressive vibe, until it tramples you with guttural growls, tremolo riffing, and pummeling double-bass drums at 4:37. But just like Kadotetut, Verenvalaja is an album begging to be heard from beginning to end. It’s rare for a 44-minute album to feel shorter, and more so if it’s doom metal, and yet Vainaja made it seem effortless, as I kept replaying the album once “Kehto” died out along with its death screams, and I’ve had this album for over a month. It’s just that fucking good.
Once again, Dan Swanö helmed the production, but again, there’s some welcome changes. Kadotetut‘s biggest downfall was the squashed production, seeing as how the version we received for review scored a DR rating of 4.1 Apparently, both Swanö and Vainaja took this criticism to heart, as the original review copy of the album scored a DR average of 7. The bass is more audible without sacrificing the heft of the guitars, drums, or Wilhelm’s cavernous vocals. However, recently we were given a High Dynamic Range mix (DR 14!) of the album about a week ago. Partaking in the Dan Swanö Challenge, comparing tracks side-by-side, I can report that there are very little differences between the two versions, but they do exist. You can hear a little bit more of the effects during the ambient parts of “Usva” and “Valaja” in the higher DR version, the bass does pop a bit more, and that aforementioned tremolo part in “Kultti” has more kick to it in the higher DR version as well. Unlike Kadotetut, neither version is fatiguing which is a major step up.
I went scraping through the album with a fine-toothed comb, and other than the lack of tempo variance, Verenvalaja cements Vainaja as the real deal. As someone who straight-up loves Kadotetut, this album dwarfs it in every aspect. May has turned into a monstrous month for metal music, and Verenvalaja is leading the choir with perverse confidence and sickening conviction. Essential.