Vorbid – A Swan by the Edge of Mandala Review

A swan at the edge of what? A fucking mandala? You know, those monk-assembled sand drawings that they sweep away as a meditation. A Swan by the Edge of Mandala (henceforth ASbtEoM) is hands down the most egregiously prog-endowed album name I’ve heard all year. And what’s that, Vorbid appears to be leaning on another definition of mandala? A dream symbol that represents a person’s quest for self-unity? So it’s a concept album too, as if we didn’t need more confirmation that Vorbid plans to spill forth a bounty of instrumental gymnastics, introspective lyrics, and formibably lengthened runtimes to help you think about where you’ve gone wrong in life, but what you can discover to turn it all around. Wait, wasn’t Vorbid long-winded thrash on their last outing? What the hell happened?

These noodly Norwegians must have taken a quad shot of Opeth (old and new alike) between 2018’s Mind and ASbtEoM, as wanky thrash no longer serves as the base for a majority of what transpires—they’ve traded their high top kicks for a sleek chukka boot. That’s not to say shades of this potential future showed no prior signs, as our very own Ferrous Beuller had noted classic rock inflections and some other progressive nonsense on their last mixed effort. Now these ideas are cranked to 11, with the epic closer “Self” showing shades of both Yes and King Crimson rather than their younger, helium-headed Coroner selves. Somewhere along the last few years, singer Michael Eriksen reigned in his divisive shriek to a more complete and piercing timbre resembling a Vektor-ish wail, a comparison that feels apt given the similarly bright soundscape. Also fitting, lead guitarist1 Daniel Emanuelsen developed an enveloping croon that gives heart to the gentler moments that lull about this collection of extended-run pieces.

Vorbid continues to shine its virtuosic light bright in this, arguably, more extravagance-welcoming setting, but scale salads and odd-time hors d’oeuvres do not a great album make. Everything on ASbtEoM sounds fantastic—cutting guitar tones, popping snare, guiding vocals, punchy bass—nary a fault to find amongst the well-dialed mix that weaves deftly through the industry-standard plus DR7. As such, this means that on the longest tracks (“Self,” “Ex Ante”), which push 11 minutes each, it’s easy to meld with the ear cushion that Vorbid lays out. Consequently, this also means that into this cushion we may sink as the dizzying array of quasi-jazz chord slides and big bluesy bends homogenize into one mass of congealed craftsmanship. Interrupting vocal moments, like the Vorbid of past, on ripping intros to the titular track and “Derealization” break up the lull more than any other element. Alas, their sparse use in the hour-long excursion leave me more tepid in light of the ever-present fretboard fury.

Unfortunately, ASbtEoM falls into the all too familiar pitfall of collapsing under its own lofty concept. In this case, Vorbid hopes to highlight the esoteric concepts of how fears and anxieties create self-inflicted tortures throughout the human experience, a theme well worth exploring. While “Ecotone” does set the stage with a main character who feels in the shadow of his brother, and supplements his confidence with trust in religion, the narrative doesn’t develop concretely from there. I get that it’s a philosophical piece, but the following three tracks afterward do little beyond a superficial exploration of how the child grows older and continues to have the same struggles. And even by the time that “Paradigm” hits us with the main character falling deeper into the clutches of religion so that they can, presumably, break free and realize the “Self”—in prog excess through extended solo breaks and a saxophone freak out—the journey plays out with many of closely related lyrical and musical ideas.

Ultimately, did Vorbid choose wisely to go down a path divergent from their thrash-fueled inception? Yes, though you may not see a high score below. Vorbid feels freer in exploration on A Swan by the Edge of Mandala than before. They have frustrated both my word count and delicate, prog-loving sensibilities with their recklessly loquacious titles and endlessly proficient instrumental talents by falling prey to the trappings of their own grandiosity. However, with youth and adventurous spirit on their side, they’ve got all the ingredients to craft a multi-course outing unquestionably worthy of your undivided attention—right by the edge of success.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: PCM2
Label: Indie Recordings
Websites: vorbid.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/vorbidband
Releases Worldwide: October 14th, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Save for a guest spot from Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth) on “By the Edge of Mandala”
  2. Thanks Vorbid!
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