Valdrin – Effigy of Nightmares Review

I’m just now becoming aware of the fact that reviewing previously unknown (to me), established black metal bands with solid discographies has become one of my favorite hobbies. Last fall brought me Germany’s Krater, with their well-produced and varied venomous assault. Last month saw me covering Finland’s …and Oceans, a band that blasted onto the scene again after nearly twenty years of silence with an album that effectively displayed the band’s evolutionary past. And now I’ve spent the last several weeks spinning Effigy of Nightmares from Cincinnati band Valdrin. I listened to both of the band’s previous releases as I prepared this review, and I can comfortably say that the band has built an impressive body of work. 2014’s debut Beyond the Forest is a long but incredible journey that walks the line between melodic black and death metals, and followup Two Carrion Talismans saw the band moving closer to a pure black metal sound. Now let’s find out how Effigy of Nightmares stacks up against its predecessors.

Effigy of Nightmares is the sound of everything that’s great about Valdrin’s past being brought to a boil and simmering until it’s reduced down to a sickening, ichorous gravy. As you ladle this highly concentrated concoction over your mashed potatoes, you’ll be treated to 6 tracks of searing tremolos, pummeling drums, somber keys, emotive solos, and an all-encompassing atmosphere of oppressive malevolence — imagine the violent melodies of Dissection and Watain mixed with the symphonic grandeur of Emperor and early Dimmu Borgir. As the third addition to a growing mythos, Effigy of Nightmares takes us on a tour of Hospitium Mortis, an infernal hospice facility where main character Nex Animus “tortures and lobotomizes the dissident gods of his domain.” This tour reveals Nex’s handiwork as we walk from cell to cell, discovering the creative methods by which he’s chosen to provide non-palliative care to these pathetic divine beings. And what a tour it is.

Nex welcomes us to his domain with the beautifully haunting intro “Gates of Hospice.” Mournful piano sets the tone beneath his whispered beckoning as the track swells into an atmospheric statement of purpose before the story begins in earnest on first proper song “Exsanguination Tunnels.” A submerged piano motif fades in over a few bars before it’s joined by the guitars and drums in a furious mixture of beauty and power. As vocalist Carter Hicks viciously proclaims that “the hospice gates have opened for us tonight!” harmonized tremolos enter the scene and obscenely talented drummer Ryan Maurmeier switches to a nifty kick drum rhythm, creating a truly remarkable moment that never failed to amaze me on each successive listen. The keys take a supporting role on the quintessential meloblack of “Red Burning Candles of Hatred,” adding subtle depth while allowing the blistering guitar work of Hicks and fellow guitarist Colton Deem to shine. A brief moment of respite appears on “Serpentine Bloodhalls,” an atmospheric interlude that somehow convincingly employs a prog rock jam to usher in the furious and faithful Emperor worship of “Basilisk of Light.” And just when I thought that things couldn’t get any better, closer “Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom” arrives to finish our journey as a musically varied epic that’s simply drenched in atmosphere, bringing with it a lyrical twist and a bone-chilling final moment.

I will say that Effigy of Nightmares feels longer than it really is, but I don’t mean that as the critique it might appear to be. Valdrin has accomplished in 30 minutes what most bands couldn’t manage with twice the time. The level of variety and depth contained within this short album is simply astounding, giving it the feel of an immersive epic without demanding the time commitment typical of such things. The production is one of the best I’ve heard all year, and the sonic brilliance only serves to enhance the already incredible songs. While I highly recommend taking the full journey, the highlight tracks in my estimation are “Exsanguination Tunnels,” “Red Burning Candles of Hatred,” and “Down the Oubliette of Maelstrom.” I can honestly see any of those three ending up on my Song of the Year shortlist come December.

As I close things out and prepare to move on to my next assignment, there’s a certain amount of anxiety building within me at the thought of having to leave this record behind. Effigy of Nightmare’s sound has been heard many times before by black metal fans, but I wonder if it’s ever been executed with such attention to detail, with this level of storytelling ability, and so damn concisely. I’m hoping to be able to devote enough time to properly explore Valdrin’s discography and mythos in the near future, but in the meantime, I can take comfort in the fact that I’ve gotten to cover what may be my favorite record of 2020 thus far.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Blood Harvest Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: June 12th, 2020

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