Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Vreid - V


My friend Ned asked me what I thought of this album, so instead of sending him an email I thought I'd write it up as a review. I got really stoked during the first couple songs, but found myself underwhelmed with the album overall. This is frustrating, because Vreid are doing a lot of things really really well. To mirror my listening experience, I thought I'd start with the good stuff, and then get to the problem.

First, the overall sound is something I dig a lot. Thrashing melodic black metal with a viking vibe? Don't mind if I do! And this sound comes less from cut and pasting a bunch of random shit together than from thoroughly digesting a single influence. I think this whole album is a kind of response to Viking-era Bathory, but it doesn't replicate the "Bathory sound." In terms of stylistic elements V sounds nothing like Blood, Fire, Death, but at its best (the first two tracks) it evokes a similar feeling. It's like Bathory re-imagined in the musical vocabulary of Destruction, later Enslaved, and 70s rock bands I have never heard of.

Second, I love the lyrics. These guys know their viking lore, and a lot of the lyrics focus on the intertwinedness of violence and ecstasy, death and life, bleakness and beauty (I am thinking especially of "Blood Eagle" and "The Sound of the River"). Rather than throwing around kitschy folklore or Victorian romanticizations, they give you the grim pagan shit straight up. There are also references to Nietzsche. So you know I'm down!

That said, this album just isn't as good as everyone seems to think. I feel like Vreid are shooting for "melodic" and "epic," but not quite hitting the mark. Metalheads throw these words around all the time in a way that has kind of stripped them of their meaning, and V exemplifies this misunderstanding.

When most people say a song is "melodic," what they really mean is "consonant"--it's based on traditional major/minor structures rather than dissonant scales, disharmonic chords, or atonal riffage. Perhaps they also mean that the song has lots of lead guitar parts. But really, melody is something more than just sounding pretty and doing it (relatively) high on the fretboard. A melody has to have some kind of definition, to stand out distinctly from what comes before and what comes after. It's this clarity of form, more than the number of notes or their originality, that gives a melody its power, beauty, and memorability. In fact, music can be really dissonant and still highly melodic. It can even be played with power chords. Wanna hear an awesome melodic death metal album, dude? Try Blessed Are The Sick. No, seriously.

Sadly, V is melodic only in the first, erroneous sense of the word. After the first couple songs, Vreid abandons distinct melodies in favor of an endless torrent of consonant leads. They all run together, and the music's power dissipates. This happens partly because the "melodies" lack the structure necessary to stand out from one another, and partly because so many of them depend on the same three-note descending pattern. I usually don't have a problem with repeating musical ideas, but here it just exacerbates the sense of vagueness. "Which song am I listening to again? Oh I know, the one where part of a minor scale gets played with a lot of conviction." Basically, V is pseudo-melodic.

When metal fans hail a song as "epic," they usually just mean that it's really long, has lots of different sections, and has a "big" sound. Well ok, I guess. But if this word is to be more than the verbal equivalent of a fart, I think it should refer to music that really takes you on a journey, where the different parts have a narrative flow that keeps your attention and rewards it. Old Enslaved is epic. Iron Maiden's "Powerslave" is FUCKING EPIC.

Vreid, sadly, is not epic. At least not on this album. The ten-plus minute track "The Others and The Look" has some great lyrics and a few cool moments, but it really just fades into the background. The throwaway melodies don't help. Vreid has the ambition and the spirit, they just haven't brought the songwriting to this battle.

V was kind of a letdown, but I am not at all trying to hate on Vreid. They are one of the few new-school bands who really understand what Norse black metal is about. I really appreciate what Vreid is going for, and I'm looking forward to hearing what they come up with next.

Buy this album on Amazon

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