After a slobbery storm of critical fellatio that even the Farmer’s Almanac would’ve had a tough time predicting, Deafheaven‘s Sunbather ended up toppling Kanye West’s Yeezus as the mainstream’s champion of unbridled artistic genius in 2013. Far from the first band to follow the post-black-gaze muse, the near-consensus on Deafheaven’s supposed brilliance was monumental, creating a prime climate for followers to begin putting their own spin on the style. Vargnatt, a German project masterminded by a man known as Evae, seems to have caught the pink bug on debut LP Grausammler. It sounds more gaze-y and post-y than 2007’s demos and 2012’s Durch die Stille EP, for better or for worse. I’m just gonna go ahead and spoil it for you: it’s worse.
Given the introduction, Deafheaven is an acceptable place to start when describing the general sound of Grausammler. Another apt comparison would be the the blogosphere’s temporary token exotic darling Ghost Bath‘s 2015 release Moonlover, but where’s the fun in simple name dropping? Grausammler is described in their press kit as “greatly influenced by the early Burzum era as well as Ulver‘s Nattens Madrigal,” which isn’t entirely wrong. Remember what Ulver did on Nattens Madrigal? They took the folk influence from Bergtatt and explored it in a more aggressive way, ramping up the intensity of the black metal aspects of their sound whilst often speeding up folky melodies and fashioning them into leads behind a purposely lo-fi production. Grausammler is like that, but clean up the production and replace folk with post-rock, indie rock, and shoegaze a la early Ride. Next, remove the teeth from early Ulver’s black metal leanings. Finally, distill the influence of early Burzum down to “golly, this guy sure repeats himself a lot” and an attempt at Varg’s vocal style on Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and voila, you have Vargnatt’s approach on Grausammler.
With the above considered, it’s unsurprising that the title track stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of Grausammler due to a partial return to the more Ulver-oriented sound Vargnatt pursued on Durch die Stille. The main riff injects a rare bit of energy into Grausammler, and Evae brings back his pre-2015 vocals successfully. The song also has a neat rock n’ roll bridge and a reprisal of the main riff after, but an ill-fitting two minute interlude demolishes the flow and coherence between these sections. H.es.a.e’s viola ending to “Inder Irre” is pleasant and wonderfully played, but the mediocre melody that’s remarkably close to the preceding guitar line that went on for one and a half uninterrupted minutes makes it more of a pretty but unneeded end cap that adds little to the song on a substantial level. Wiedergaenger’s drums and Evae’s guitars are competently played, and the fill concluding “Allein in Mir” is a damn fine bit of drumming.
Given that I do have a word limit and we’re months away from Festivus, I’ll keep my airing of grievances to as much of a minimum as possible, starting with Evae’s vocals. The influence is definitely early Burzum, but he comes across as the guy from Silencer drunkenly covering “Inn I Slottet Fra Droemmen” on black metal karaoke night. The title track has this caterwauling coupled with Evae’s decent shrieks of old, serving to amplify the annoying aspects of the new and nearly ubiquitous style through a direct comparison. Vargnatt‘s cavalier attitude towards songwriting couldn’t be covered up by better vocals though, and this detriment really sinks Grausammler. “Allein in Mir” doesn’t justify even half of its seven minutes, as it just runs through the motions repeating a scant few bland parts over and over again with no real purpose or direction. “In der Irre” aimlessly meanders with powerless post-gaze non-riffs for five and a half minutes, transitioning into what sounds like a B-grade Pestilential Shadows outtake before the aforementioned viola solo. The utter nonsense that comprises the midsection of “Vor den Toren” is the most unintentionally hilarious thing I’ve heard all year, as it really showcases the weakness of Evae’s newfangled vocals by layering them obnoxiously over a soft acoustic guitar. Finally, the majority of “Veltverloren” sounds like lifeless blackened indie rock with a very alarmed fox over top, and unless indie rock’s central genre tenet is that it sucks, I can confidently say it fails in both directions.
I haven’t the foggiest idea why Vargnatt pursued this particular aesthetic outside of the generally friendly attitude towards it. It’s listless, nearly riff-less, and a chore to experience. The production creates a warm and inviting sound with a decent DR score but little in the way of excitement, bringing the term “inoffensive” to mind. Ultimately, Vargnatt have created something like Panzer Division Marduk safety scissors: a thin and superficial black metal exterior with something dull inside it.