Somewhere along my personal timeline of listening to extreme music I formed an imaginary line dividing two equally valid camps of folk metal. On one side, you have your bands of brooding boys who like to pose next to frozen streams for their promo shots in between discussions of just how great Windir was; on the other, you have your gangs of drunken revelers, crowding into the nearest tavern to relate raucous tales of wenches and trolls to any half-willing passersby. Not having been familiar with any Argentinian folk metal bands prior to hearing Vorgrum‘s full length debut Last Domain, I had no clue which style to expect… until I learned that one of the tracks is called “Potato Troll,” which leaves little room for doubt. Let’s party.
Last Domain borrows liberally from many of Finland’s numerous folk metal bands. At their core Vorgrum follows the Finnish melodeath template, adding sprinkles of blackened distortion and incorporating sounds from Finntroll (“Troll Villa,”) Ensiferum (“Legacy of the Ancients,”) and Whispered (“Scaring Us to Death”) among others. It would have been easy for Vorgrum to come across as a cheap knockoff with Last Domain if they had handled the material differently, yet miraculously the entirety of it feels fresh and energetic. All of the members contribute vocals here and with the assortment of screeches, squeals, grunts, chants, and cackles, it feels like the band had an absolute blast recording this thing. Add in an honest-to-God accordion courtesy of lead guitarist Folter, a consistently brisk pace (in terms of both tempo and album construction) and a good dose of humppa rhythms and you’ve got a folk metal record that’s as exuberant as it is listenable.
The levity of Last Domain is refreshing, but it (however unintentionally) acts as a red herring to distract from a lack of anything interesting going on in the guitar department. Riffs are typically of the bouncy, staccato, stop-start variety that Korpiklaani is so enamored with, and as Vorgrum’s sound is light on lead guitar, the lion’s share of the hooks go to the synths and accordion. That’s fine for this style of folk metal, but with songwriting so eclectic it’s a tad disappointing that the guitars don’t follow suit. Simple though the riffs may be, they work far better than they ought to because the songwriting on Last Domain is concise from start to finish. Vorgrum are huge believers in the “less is more” philosophy, and by the time the riffs in a given track hint at growing stale, the band is wrapping things up and racing onto the next song before boredom ever has a chance to set in.
Vorgrum‘s brevity makes for some seriously catchy and interesting (if not terribly complex) tunes; “Desert Knight,” for instance, intriguingly combines traditional Middle Eastern melodies with humppa folk and impressively aggressive vocals and drumming. I could go on for paragraphs praising individual tracks, but suffice it to say that each incorporates an effective gimmick to help it stand out. I realize that the word “gimmick” may come across as harsh, and in this case you would be half right. While supremely entertaining, Vorgrum seems to struggle to find a sound that’s unique to them, as they explore a wide range of them without ever settling for one they can call their own. It’s not a deal breaker, but going into Last Domain you should be expecting a fun collection of folk metal tunes rather than a cohesive affair. In regards to production, Last Domain sounds quite professionally mixed for an independently recorded album (despite the predictably obscured bass.) While the rhythm section can occasionally overpower the folk instrumentation, it’s never enough of a problem that it dampens the overall experience.
Despite Vorgrum‘s apparent identity crisis and lack of impressive guitar work, Last Domain is a totally enjoyable and eclectic record that I’m still digging after nearly a dozen listens. I feel that I can safely recommend this album to pretty much anyone who enjoys any of the bands I referenced above; if you fall into that category and don’t mind the prospect of barebones riffs, then you can safely add a point or two to my score. You’ll hear better folk metal albums this year, sure, but you’d be hard pressed to find a band having as much fun with the genre as Vorgrum