It’s become a cliché to list all the things for which Scotland is famous. But cliché gets you banned to the Skull Pit Corner ov Naughtiness™ in these parts. So let’s look at something less well-known that Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is renowned for… deep-fried Mars Bars. I should love them. Chocolate, caramel, and nougat, all deliciously fried up as a warm, crunchy
breakfast dessert. Yet I don’t. It’s really difficult for me to explain why, because every individual component is something I love, but the final product just underwhelms. I felt much the same way listening to Demonian Abyssal Visions, the debut album from Scottish duo, Valaraukar. The question is, why is this not the treat it should be?
Valaraukar was formed from the remains of Nolti Nan Gana Nan Nolta. Guitarist Vagath and drummer Sovereign combined and named their new band after the fiery demons (or ‘Balrogs’) from Lord of the Rings. Their first EP, Harnessing of Hostile Forces, was released in 2018, but Demonian Abyssal Visions is their first LP. The band’s style can best be described as a hybrid between the early second and third-wave black metal bands of the 90s (like Immortal), and more experimental modern projects (like Inquisition). So far, so good. The band brings expansive melodies (“The Unassailable Throne”), tight instrumentation (“Red Eyes Behold the Heart of Ruin”), raw energy and variety to the mix. So what’s the problem?
The major underlying issue is the lack of climax within the songs (adolescent me, and the commentariat, will be delighted with that sentence). Valaraukar eschews the verse-chorus-verse format and focuses instead on different movements within tracks. If you consider the movements as, say, chapters of a book, there needs to be build-up/climax/resolution in each one. Without this, stories meander and boredom sets in. The same applies to music. With Demonian Abyssal Visions, individual parts flow evenly and unwaveringly and then just change abruptly to a new movement. Take “The Unassailable Throne,” for example. There are three distinct movements: the first lasts 2:30 and consists of traditional black metal with blast beats. It then shifts jarringly to a much slower tempo for two more minutes, before a final shift to a more thrashy, riff-orientated end. Each movement works well, but they don’t build to anything nor do they complement each other. You could splice the movements from different songs together and I’m not sure anyone would really notice.
The vocals also compound the problem. Interestingly, Vagath doesn’t shriek or growl like most black metal vocalists. His style is more a monotonic bark. This was disorientating at first, but I gradually grew to appreciate it. The downside is that there is little variety in his singing. While this does create a hypnotic, almost liturgical, atmosphere, it adds to the lack of dynamism found in the tracks. Either throwing in some growls, or pushing his vocals a bit more would’ve added much-needed variety.
Nevertheless, there is plenty to appreciate on this record. When Valaraukar go thrash, as on “Visions of Truth Among Black Fume” or “Servants of the Nameless,” it’s catchy and propulsive. Vagath is a talented and inventive guitarist, and Sovereign makes sure the drums whip the songs into shape without bullying them into submission with extraneous and wearying blast beats. The mix allows the instrumentation to breathe but captures the raw, malevolent energy the band is looking for.
It’s been a while since I’ve had to wrestle so hard with an album to get a sense of it. So many components here work well that I am surprised I don’t enjoy it more. Like the aforementioned deep-fried Mars Bar, Demonian Abyssal Visions will have its fans. For me, however, the solid ingredients just didn’t combine to form a fulfilling whole. For LP2, Valaraukar should keep their current vocal strategy, but focus on expanding it and mixing it up. I would like to see them trying to maximize each movement by emphasizing dynamism over atmosphere. There’s a fantastic album lurking in the fiery belly of these Scots, but it requires some changes to realize. Next time, more single-malt scotch, less Mars Bar, please lads.