In 2014, the Finnish three-piece Vainaja introduced the world to its conceptual death-doom. Their debut, ‘Kadotetut’, was a real eye/ear opener for this listener with its combination of mammoth, memorable tracks and overarching themes centred on the sermons of one Wilhelm Waenaa, a leader of the 19th century Finnish cult of Vainaja. Where that previous disc utilised arbitrary examples of Waenaa’s work as inspiration, their new album is structured in six linear parts representing the chapters of a tome attributed to him. ‘Verenvalaja’, meaning “Blood Caster”, is the name of both the tome and this sophomore effort…
Immediately, the thudding beats and thick guitars of ‘Raita’ set the heavy, doom laden tone. Hints of enchanting melody seep out although once the first cursed vocalisations utter forth, there’s no doubt about what a fundamentally dark journey we’re about to embark on. The vocals, like the music are subterranean and deathly black yet embellished with a bit of obscure clean singing/chanting. What’s superb is how the music’s heaviness never interrupts such enchanting signifiers and rather lurks in accompaniment, completely threateningly. As ‘Sielu’ kicks in with double bass and a bit more momentum to the riffs, what stands out is just how crushingly heavy the album’s tone is. Anyone familiar with the debut would expect this only on ‘Verenvalaja’ the doom is multiplied. Like the opener, ‘Sielu’ exhibits features of hopefulness that are contrasted against riffs which either bludgeon unrelentingly or which crush you with one stroke of the guitar strings. Adding to the ambiance are details like those quasi-religious intrusions of choir and organ or the bizarre narration.
In its eleven minutes, ‘Usva’ certainly ups the obscurity factor. Initially, the dual vocals increase in their intensity as the standard deathly style meets a more grizzled rasp, adding a different dimension. As has been customary thus far, the music mutates between overbearing darkness and evocative sonic beauty in seamless fashion that, unsurprisingly, consumes you within its monstrous tentacles and transports you away. Around the six minute mark there’s a transition to cinematic, orchestral environs which also emerges in utterly seamless fashion, without any of the ostentation or pretentiousness that less skilled metal bands routinely exhibit. Beyond, we are equally smoothly plunged back into darkness. Yet another aspect which Vainaja executes masterfully is to inject an infectious element to all that they do. So while ‘Valaja’ can be characterised by its thick layers of riff like liquid tar, it’s also really rather catchy despite its inherent gloom. Above all, such songwriting renders the atmosphere of the narrative all pervasive.
And it is of course that narrative which inspires the musical course of the album. As ‘Kultti’ goes, the track proves a bit of a belligerent doom number but with all the mesmeric hallmarks of what has preceded it, this time to evoke the cult of Vainaja regaining followers via human sacrifice. There’s even a momentary bit of ’70s styled synthesiser(?) to add to the captivating affair. According to the band (and historians, apparently) the sixth chapter of the tome of ‘Verenvalaja’ “ends absurdly”. But musically speaking, there is nothing remotely absurd about track six ‘Kehto’; only brilliant. Vague effects, along with contemplative beats and guitar define the early part of a track which balances soothing tones with the unknown in disconcerting fashion. The band operates in far less of an overtly dark/heavy fashion so even when it does eventually build, the closer is far more subtle in approach than the lion’s share of the album. And what a great way to end.
All in all, ‘Verenvalaja’ is highly recommended for fans of death and doom as it’s an enthralling incorporation of the two genres that is simply devoid of low points. It’s fair to say that Vainaja have outdone their debut, the end result being one of the most mysterious, epic and effortlessly excellent releases that 2016 will see.