Vardan – Dark and Desolated March Review

My dream review would run something like this: all I have to do is mention the band’s name and everyone will know what to expect from their new release. No adjectives, no descriptors, no compound curse words. Let’s give it a try: Vardan. [End review.]

I wish that were the case. Instead, I have to come up with 600 more words that you already know are coming. I assume most of you haven’t been keeping up with Vardan since the man/band released nine fucking full-lengths in one year. So, let me drop some surprising news on you: Dark and Desolated March is Vardan‘s only release—so far—this year. And he only had one full-length record last year; the fantastically-dark The Wish of Weeping. It seems that 2020 is getting to Lord Vardan, too. Not only is production down but his mood has been downright sad. A one-eighty flip to 2018’s Unholy Lightless Summer. But, being from Italy and seeing the COVID shit that happened there, I’m not surprised by the tone of Dark and Desolated March. That said, with only one release and the year already more than halfway over, I gotta say, I expected a lot from this new record. Oh, the suspense!

What initially grabbed my interest—as well as others at AMG Headquarters—was the one-pager on this new Vardan opus. It states Vardan’s return to a darker and less-ambient musical approach for his thirty-third full-length release. Now, I’m no Moribund promo exec but, according to Metal Archives and my professional counting skills, this ain’t no #33. GOD isn’t even close to that desired number, and Vardan isn’t quite there either. Counting albums aside, Vardan has stripped down with Dark and Desolated March. With five tracks (“Dark and Desolated March Pt. 1”-“Pt.5”1) and a forty-five-minute runtime, D&DM is ninety percent key atmospheres. The guitar parts are simple, single-note plucks or background, black-metal pickings that attempt to fuse the instrumentation with the tunnel shrieking. I wouldn’t describe this album as “less ambient” than his most recent releases, but Vardan is diving into a darker space than he’s been in recent years.

This is clear from the opener “Dark and Desolated March Pt. 1.” Distant and moody, “Pt. 1” haunts the earholes with a combination of reverberating guitars and thick key atmospheres. Unfortunately, even with a ten-and-a-half-minute existence, it goes nowhere. But, if I’ve learned anything from Vardan, the album is more a journey than a collection of songs. And D&DM is no different. The strongest tracks on the album are the ones that come at the end. Using the ethereal, almost feminine-voiced keys of “Pt. 3,” “Pt. 4” diversifies the album’s redundant black metal approach with soft piano strokes and a captivating interlude. The closing “Pt. 5” also borrows the cold, forest-y tones of “Pt. 3” and “Pt. 4” but adds its own unique flavors. These come toward the end in a fast-paced black ‘n’ roll transition. Typically, I associate a lick like this to fun and upbeat, but Vardan—somehow—keeps it sad and melancholic.

But, those are the only moments that stick out to me on this entire album. Though the vocals fit the mood, they’re so far back in the mix to remind me of Fenriz’s drum work on old Darkthrone releases. They’re “there” in an atmospheric kind of way but don’t do much more. And without Vardan‘s occasional use of clean guitars and heart-wrenching stop-start builds, songs like “Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” blend into one another without adding much to the album. It isn’t until you get to those ghostly keys of “Pt. 3” that something rises from the blackened crust.

I’ve said it before. I enjoy most of Vardan‘s catalog. Hell, I own the whole damn thing.2 So, even though we poke fun of his prolificity around these parts, Vardan knows how to bring about much sadness from his meloblack soundscapes. But D&DM doesn’t do it for me. It’s one-dimensional and lacks the heart still found in most of his catalog. I know this record will speak to some of you but, for me, I’ll wait another month or two for Vardan to drop something else.3


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 128 kb/s mp3
Label: Moribund Records
Websites: vardan.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/vardanblackmetal
Releases Worldwide: September 18th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. The label is the only one that titles the songs this way. Everywhere else I’ve looked, the songs are “I”-“V”.
  2. Support prolific and kvlt artists! – Steel
  3. I can’t believe we got a promo pic from Vardan!
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