Vananidr – Beneath the Mold Review

You know those people who you’re not exactly friends with, but who you’re happy to see whenever they enter a room? That’s been my experience with Swedish metallers, and spelling-mistake waiting to happen, Vananidr. First catching my eye with sophomore effort, Road North, it was the follow-up, Damnation that really put them on my radar. This was second-wave black metal with that something extra: in Damnation’s case, the ability to shift styles cohesively and compellingly. A murky production held it back, and, to be honest, it faded in my memory a bit. Nevertheless, when I saw Beneath the Mold lurking in the promo pit (alongside a predictable misspelling of the band’s name), I was intrigued. The album cover looks atmoblack, the title sounds death, and the band is motivated and hungry (according to the promo material). Would this be Vananidr’s ascent to the big leagues?

First things first: the collection’s name is a bit of a misnomer. No grimy death metal awaits the listener. This is second-wave black filtered through a second-wave vending machine and served in a second-wave cup. This has always been Vananidr’s way, so no surprises there. Anyone with even a passing interest in Immortal or Dissection will feel the bear-hug of familiarity. Beneath the Mold offers no giant step forward on the band’s sound either, and posits itself as a continuation of Damnation, rather than a significant shift. This means that if you were on board for that album, you’ll like this one. While there is comfort in familiarity, those of us wanting significant evolution may be left a touch disappointed.

Vananidr is very good at what they do. Beneath the Mold comes roaring from the gates, purring like a well-oiled race car, and proceeds to zoom round for 44 minutes of supremely confident, slick black metal. The band has never struggled to find a riff or a melody that doesn’t immediately burrow into your ear holes, and these cuts are no exception. Opener “Dominion” sounds suitably evil and dramatic, making excellent use of Vananidr’s greatest strength: the ability to shift tempos as seamlessly as silk on snow. Rapid-fire beats become dense and slow without the listener being any the wiser, making the songs entertaining and enjoyable. “Dominion” is followed up with equally compelling cuts “Awake” (which relies on the strong melodies the band is able to summon seemingly at will) and “The Watcher” (which injects some true malevolence and dissonance). The quality remains high throughout and the album never outstays its welcome.

Beneath the Mold is, nevertheless, a frustrating listen. Frustrating because there should be more. Vananidr have settled in a trench with so many other bands that despite doing what they do so well, they don’t stand out. Given the talent on display, and ability to eke melodies from musical stone, this is disappointing. Beneath the Mold hits all the right black metal beats without ever threatening to break free of them. This is compounded by a weaker middle section (“Beneath the Mold,” in particular, meanders over 10 minutes without going anywhere interesting) and—once again—a murky and muddy production that blunts rather than highlights.

Not every album a band makes must be a giant leap forward. But it’s frustrating to see talented bands, who haven’t quite formulated their sound yet, make cool music but remain static. It’s equally frustrating to see them repeat their mistakes. With Beneath the Mold, Vananidr have given us a really solid platter of black metal that sates more than it disappoints. But slightly disappoints nevertheless. The great melodies and riffs? Still there. The glorious tempo shifts from Jørn Himself? Still there. The bad production? Still there. The sense that they’re not quite hitting their potential? Definitely still there. While there’s plenty here for black metal fans to enjoy, Vananidr need to put their collective feet on the accelerator if they want to stand out in a crowded field. Otherwise, they’ll always be that dude who everyone likes, but no one remembers.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Black Lion Records
Releases Worldwide: November 11th, 2022

« »