Vanum – Legend Review

Incremental changes between albums is the stuff solid discographies are made of. A drastic change in sound might win a few new fans, but it’s sure to alienate old ones in droves. Besides, it gives the impression of a musical personality crisis. Make no changes, and by the third album accusations of stagnation set in.1 So if you’re a band, make sure you evolve, but not too much, and make sure it’s in a direction that was kind of hinted at on a previous album so no one can accuse you of just picking up on a trend. And just so we’re clear, if you do evolve incrementally, for every person who warms to the course adjustment, there’ll be another left cold. Y’all know what I’m talking about. This kind of chatter fills every metal internet comment section and text app. Bands tend to blow this stuff off. To hear them tell it, they’re mainly concerned with just following their metallic bliss in whatever direction it takes them.2 If you’re familiar with Vanum’s previous album Ageless Fire, the American black metal act has forged a slightly different path on their third full-length Legend, and it’s our job to overthink how successful those incremental changes are.

When I reviewed Ageless Fire on this very site, I described Vanum’s sound as “black metal without cross-genre bells and whistles,” and this is absolutely still true. It’s a different beast than Yellow Eyes or Ash Borer, principle members M. Rekevics and K. Morgan’s other bands, in that it has never tried to be anything but a love letter to black metal days of yore. Bathory has always been a touchpoint, but perhaps the most noticeable change on Legend is just how hard Vanum lean into their Quorthorniness. Whereas Ageless Fire had a handful of references, this album has moved into a permanent space at the intersection of Blood, Fire, Death Street and Hammerheart Boulevard. This isn’t to say Legend is pure imitation. Vanum write a certain kind of recognizable epic guitar lead and this album is full of them. Likewise, Rekevics has a specific hoarse bark to his vocals that is unmistakable, and the contemporary, clear production is almost identical to that of Ageless Fire.

Legend is certainly an appropriate title, as this time around the band go for “epic” with a capital “monumental.” Those grandiloquent guitar leads, often harmonized a la Maiden, are as rousing as ever. “Adversary” and “The Gateway and the Key” both kick off with stately riffs that will have you rallying to the nearest battle banner. Synths have been part of the band’s repertoire for a while, but they’re more prominent this time around, resulting at times in a more ethereal take on their epic explorations. Most of the five songs follow a pattern of subtle build-up, starting with black tremolo riffs before at some point leaning into more of a traditional heavy metal approach. This is especially true of the title track. “Legend” starts off with a furious blast and simple tremolo melody before the guitars stretch out and the drums become more traditional. Vanum handle these transitions with considerable skill, so nothing on Legend ever feels abrupt or jarring.

In a way, that leads me to my main hesitation with the album. Ageless Fire, which I loved, was much more immediate than Legend is, with sharper edges and incendiary blasts of blackened fury. That record was full of hooks, like the opening riff to “Under the Banner of Death,” that I couldn’t get out of my head for days. The shift toward a more squarely epic Viking metal style has resulted in a smoothed-out record that may be pleasingly subtle, but doesn’t stick in the craw. Mid-paced middle sections draw each song out a tad too long, and the riffs lose urgency. This is especially true of the 14+ minute closer “Between the Pillars of Earth and Air,” which, besides the fantastic synth/guitar bridge just past the halfway point, blends into the scenery of the album too much for my taste. 

A lot of people will likely find the more subtle compositions of Legend rewarding as they spend time with them. Personally, after putting their prior record into my top three of 2019, I find this one less invigorating. Vanum have done all you can ask of a band to keep things fresh by changing up the formula slightly while retaining their core sound, but this one begins to move away from what I loved about them before.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Profound Lore
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 22nd, 2022

Show 2 footnotes
  1. Unless you are Sodom. – Steel
  2. That may be true, but I can’t imagine musicians are immune to the chatter.
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