Those of us at not familiar with Vektor shot some great shit around the AMG office bilge warmer when we first heard that Terminal Redux was going to be 73 minutes long. A thrash album coming in at over an hour long? Don’t these wankers know that I could listen to Reign in Blood two-and-a-half times instead of their shitty album? We all know how that went down. Suffice it to say that the Reign in Blood rule can at times be violated. Yet it still surprised me when Varaha took their 47-minute-long atmospheric-goth-doom-etc. album and, in stuffing another 21 minutes of orchestral interlude tracks in, somehow improved the record.
And I really was surprised. Despite admirably restrained press copy, I caught the scent of bloat on A Passage for Lost Years and cherished the thought of burning through its ample blubber. I salivated at the opportunity to glibly recount the years that I lost during the passage of this brobdingnagian album. It was not to be. Though A Passage for Lost Years takes its sweet time, the songs and even the interludes are surprisingly emotive—even lovely at times—and rarely feel drawn out for the sake of it. Rather, Varaha expand to fill out A Passage for Lost Years’ runtime as a dense, milky fog.
The band’s gloomy, doomy approach feels like an expansion of ‘90s Katatonia towards the realm of shoegazey atmospheric black metal, though the material never commits to one side or the other. Both of these idioms translate well into the album’s chamber-performed interludes, where winds and strings reflect the metallic songs. “The Midnight Oath” picks up on the final melodic figure of “Severance” and offers a plaintive reply in brass, just as “Disbelief” provides icy complement to “My World and Yours.” Bandleader Fabio Brienza’s rattling screams and reverberant croons adorn the album’s guitar-and-drum-led songs, placed with restraint and respect for their cycles of tension and release. Even at its most hard-hitting or orchestrally intense, Passage never falls into bombast to make its point, preferring to coax, rather than prod, the listener toward its damp point of view.
Supporting that coaxing is an heirloom-quilt production job; A Passage for Lost Years wraps the listener in warm, beautifully detailed, carefully stitched and lovingly crafted sounds. The recording (thanks to Nick Broste and Mike Lust) picks up the beauty of the chamber instruments, which Adam Stilson’s mix and master respect just as much as the grit of the guitars and harsh screams. Every instrument has the space it needs, yet all come together towards one goal, and the end product flows effortlessly and unnoticeably between sounds. While listening I’m at times struck by the realization that the lead role is no longer played by guitar or voice but by brass or strings, and I fail to recall when the proverbial baton was passed.
I don’t think there’s a piece of Passage that’s begging to be excised or an idea that overstays its welcome enough to become tiresome, and across the record’s near Redux-ian runtime, that’s quite the accomplishment. Yet the album’s length itself isn’t compelling. There’s a feeling that I get after listening to Terminal Redux, Cloak of Ash,1 or Mirror Reaper2 that’s just not here—a mixture of exhaustion and awe and a sense of gravity that compels silent reflection. Still, I’ve never quite heard anything like it; at times the album recalls Witxes’ moody and almost rustic ambiance, yet it drifts out of this into film-score-worthy orchestral pieces just as easily as screams its way through morose doom. This is an album to wander in.