Norway. A country home to a beautiful language, gorgeous fjords, and hideous metal. While most, including me, associate the country with black metal, there are other brands attempting to make their mark, including this offering, Vanora. Playing a mixture of djent and more traditional progressive metal that feels distinctly of the current trends in metal, Vanora‘s debut Momentum claims to promise sharp riffage, a nice mixture of singing and growling, and big, heady synth lines. Wait, what?
The record kicks off in somewhat peculiar fashion, with the longest, most melodic song, “Mask.” The track boasts a blend of clean and harsh work from vocalist Konrad Sandvik as well as a good deal of balance between the polyrhythmic crunch of the guitar and bass and the textural variety provided by the synthesizers. The second track, “Stamina,” immediately cranks up the aggression in both lyrical and musical approach, albeit in a very…bro-y manner that unfortunately reminds of Five Finger Death Punch; this is likely (hopefully) an ESL issue that will improve with time. Other good cuts include the paranoid, sinister stylings of “Laughing Windows” and “Pariah.” Both cuts are aided enormously by the synthesizer work, as the riffage boasts too much crunch to build sufficient atmosphere by itself.
Unfortunately, that’s a total of four decent-to-good tracks out of eight. Much of remainder of the album, concentrated in the middle of the thing, is far too chug-oriented in a way that leads the listener to either tune out or, given the polyrhythyms, wish they were listening to Meshuggah instead. The dead-center of the album also features a short interlude called (insert self-demonstration joke here) “Metronome.” The interlude would work well to provide breathing room between the two dense, chug-heavy tracks it’s between, but the track is so nondescript as to be an absolute waste; better to replace it with a synth section like those in “Mask” or “Laughing Windows.” As an additional note, the choice to make “Pariah” a bonus track is utterly baffling – without it, the album clocks in at a scant 32 minutes, accentuating the duller selections and lending the impression of a shortage of songwriting ideas.
Regarding individual performances, I find myself somewhat stymied. The production here is fairly dense, and deciphering individual performances is made more difficult than need be as a result. A cold first listen led to outright surprise at the presence of two guitarists, and the bass is…there, somewhere, in the polyrhythms and chugging. Drummer Elias Pellicer is at least not completely buried, but similarly failed to impress in a meaningful way. Thus, the only real sections attracting comment are Sandvik’s vocals and the synthesizer additions. Sandvik’s cleans, while not up to power metal quality, could really shine with further practice, and the Jens Kidman impersonation of his screams is nothing but admirable, whether it be by accident or design. Conversely, the promo information offers no credit for the aforementioned synthesizer lines, and it’s a shame as these are a high point and could be used to elevate future releases. As usual, the master is unnecessarily compressed, albeit not horribly. In this case, however, it sounds like the master is contributing to the decipherment issues created by the mix, and thus the accentuating the overall feeling of blandness.
Overall, while a few tracks stand out, the meat of the album unfortunately blurs together into a chunky mush, and the good cuts fail to stick in the brain well enough for this to make much more than background music. It’s not inept by any means, but instead sinks into the pitfall of failing to impress in any meaningful way; which is a damn shame in a progressive release.