Varego – Varego Review

Talk about an art upgrade! Last time we saw Italian prog-sludgers Varego, their offering came wrapped in a decidedly undercooked wrapper. That turned out to be a bit prophetic, as the album innards were likewise short a few polishing sessions. 2 years have passed since then, and Varego have reverted from their inclusion on Argonauta’s roster to the solitary status of the self-releasing ronin with a self-named record. A mid-career eponymous album always serves as an attention grabber, a statement of identity. Along with the appealing cover, these are all strong indicators that the band is attempting a kind of rebirth, or at least a make-over. This is likely spurred by the evolution in the band dynamics, as the line-up shifts from a quartet to a trio. Does this change reflect in their music?

Well, mostly, no. Varego still sling somewhat solid sludge from the stables of Mastodon and affiliates. There’s lots of multi-vocal harmonies with somewhat nasal, Ghost-like timbres, as well as hardcore-adjacent screams and the occasional growl, ensuring plenty of variety in that department. Most notably, the production has much improved. Whereas the predecessor was full of weird filters and odd mix decisions, Varego sounds tight and consistent. The master is a bit dense, but the balance is vastly superior, with enough room for the bass to shine, and the drums retain a nice heft, lending sufficient weight to the record.

Here’s the issue though; this is heavily riff-based music, but the riffs are forgettable to the point where I wonder whether it can be weaponized by the secret service. They’re as dynamic as glaciers; most of them are stolidly mid-paced, with few exceptions, but they’re also predictable and contain narcolepsy-inducing levels of dead space, where chords just hold and lethargically drift into the next bar. The same holds true for quite a few vocal lines, though not at quite the same frequency. However, a different issue occurs in that layer. I enjoy vocal harmony as much as anyone, but it’s a tool that should be used somewhat sparingly. On Varego, the tool is more like the hammer in the old adage about the nails.

By their powers combined, these two problems form Captain Unfocused. It’s a superficial issue, to be sure; structurally, the songs are not prone to wanderlust, and the 7 tracks wrap up in a tidy 35 minutes. But between the sonic blur caused by the abundance of vocal harmonics and the lethargic hooks, I find myself necessitated to lash my head onto the speakers with my ears and eyes propped open Clockwork Orange style for my attention not to drift. And still, I can recall most of the hooks only for as long as I’m listening to them. Even when the languid drifting riffs temporarily make way for variants with a bit more punch, they lack staying power, despite being repeated twice as often as their slower brethren.

Despite all this, I don’t want to shoot down Varego entirely. Though the songwriting is as of yet lacking, the band does seem bent on improving where they can. The flaws here are more subtle than before, less the obvious mistakes of a band that’s still trying to find a sound in a slipping and sliding manner, and more like a mature band that still has to spend more time honing their sound to get the most out of it. And that is not just the improved packaging talking. So while the self-titled doesn’t attain a higher score than the last entry, Varego is a band not done evolving. Let’s hope they grow for the better on the next iteration.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: June 11th, 2021

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