Vargafrost has managed to perfectly join two parts of the black metal world into one intriguing release with Honour, Blood, Nature and Love (we’ll come back that that title shortly). Whereas some of the best heathen black metal I’ve heard recently has been edging towards either the more-shoegazingly intense or the ever more progressive, Vargafrost has turned back the clock to the early 1990s and those simple punk-oriented riffs that at times survive on just three chords – refreshing in to today’s black metal word where the drive has been towards the ever more mind-screwingly complex.
The message seems to be: simplicity is a virtue but it also allows Vargafrost to remain fully focused on the task in hand – hammering home its uncompromising take on heathen black metal. There is an intensity here seldom seen from the heathen metal fraternity with that grim plodding pace combining perfectly with the gritty vocals of Asken Heidulfsen to bring home a grainy, windswept vision of ancient landscapes and the men and gods that (we might just dream) walked upon them.
But, despite slapping aside many of the more trite aspects of the sub genre, these New Zealanders still offer a lot of the traditional hallmarks of a great pagan metal release too with those darkly captivating riffs, beautiful guitar tone, which provides the album with all its atmosphere, some bleakly folk signatures and the obligatory cover art with an idealised scene of nature just in case you forgot what you were supposed to take away from this.
Vargafrost let the music – and more specifically those 1990s throwback riffs – do the war chanting for them with a no frills approach. But that’s not to say there isn’t adventure to be had in here. The eight minute epic opener proves that with its scene-setting quick-march pace and ever evolving but solemn melodies. The hooks are gentle and take their time to take effect signalling from the outset that this is an album to get your teeth into. The more obvious paganisms of second track Völvaress fire off like a beacon into the sky before Vargafrost proceed on their dour journey through some brooding pastures such as Odin’s Sacrifice and The Light of Baldur before cranking up proceedings on tracks like Ask and Embla and penultimate track Thursmegin.
Vargafrost have produced a nice, slow-burn of an album in a genre more used to turning up, setting those thatched roofs on fire and leaving for the next village. It might plod a little too much for some but it’s definitely worth a bit of effort. And just a note on the album title – it’s undoubtedly a wee bit provocative to kick off with the old ‘Honour and Blood’ message, but is there an effort to temper or even take control of the message there too? There are always certain words that should get the back-up of anyone who paid even the slightest attention in German history class – and the phrase Blood & Honour brandished around – usually with provocation in mind (the latter was the motto of the Adolf’s very own youth brigade).
No doubt some may argue that the words also embody a very heathen, non-Christian ideal of kinship but reclaiming those words from the far right in any meaningful way is probably never going to happen. Does throwing in the words ‘nature’ and ‘love’ exhibit a casual slight of hand in that album title that helps resolve any of that? Or make it better or worse? I’m sure there are plenty of other signifying words that the heathen metal community could harbour that don’t include sailing so close to the hurricane winds of the Third Reich in such a blatant way. Or maybe these guys couldn’t care less.
Either way, if it’s possible to put aside that boorishness, daft blunder or genius attempt to take back something that is probably forever lost within a sickening episode in history, Vargafrost’s heathen metal is an excellent step back in time both to a time when those black metal riffs were still so all-important, no to mention a bygone era where gods walked the earth and men enjoyed battering the crap out of each other with axes, swords and anything else they could get their hands on.
(7.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)