Always a bit of a sucker for symphonic black metal, I was pleased to have the opportunity to sample this album from Finland’s Vargrav, the project of V-Khaoz, the former drummer of the atmospheric black metal band Kalmankantaja. This “act of black arts”, we are told, evokes “the visionary works of old Obtained Enslavement, Dimmu Borgir, Abigor, Limbonic Art, and especially early Emperor”. We even get a cover of “Ancient Queen” from Emperor’s 1992 demo “Wrath of a Tyrant” as a bonus track.
My word, it’s cold. The atmospherics and symphony quickly give way to howling winds and blizzards, as the black metal of “Netherworld” lays merciless waste to all around it. This may be devastation but the instrumental power and purity provide something uplifting. Haunting growls add to this sweeping maelstrom. The symphonic element seems to be a mere gesture as we fire off into another seven minute adventure of ghastly darkness. This is “Shadowed Secrets Unmasked”. Satanic chanting underscores the turbulent instrumentals. “Limbo of Abysmal Void” starts in a more ominous way before exploding in now customary fashion. Violence is the byword. This is imperious, raging on remorselessly but without progressing. In fact “Ethereal Visions of a Monumental” seems to be a raging continuation of the same, but with interesting cyber sound effects before a return to impressively thunderous violence. For the first time, the bleak symphonic atmosphere is allowed to develop on “Obedient Intolerant Ensnared”. As the frosty winds whistled past my eyes, I reflected that I preferred this to the more abrupt scene of the previous tracks, which didn’t exploit their initial promise. This however is majestic in its aura of suffering. A sorrowful outro ends the album, but there are two bonus tracks. First is “The Glory of Eternal Night”, an ode to Emperor if ever there was one. A ghastly and haunting chorus acts as backdrop to the blood-spattered evil, which emanates from the music. And I appreciated the nostalgia of “Ancient Queen”, which Vargalv renders well. It also served as reminder, perhaps to the detriment of this album, that no-one has matched or could match the cold and malevolent creativity of classic Emperor.
No-one could ever doubt that “Netherstorm” does not uphold the highest traditions of evil black metal. This is predictable territory and other than the magnificent “Obedient Intolerant Ensnared” could capitalise on the cold atmosphere better, but even so the relentless intensity and touches of originality make it a worthwhile and at times awe-inspiring listen.
(7/10 Andrew Doherty)