Well this is a case of not judging a band on one album, that’s for sure. My only encounter with Valborg before this new seventh album was with the German groups 5th one Romantik. I guess that showed the bands sensitive side as it was a largely mellow affair that had me mentioning the likes of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis and more gothic metal bands such as Moonspell and SepticFlesh. I played it again before hearing new album Zentrum and found myself warmed in its “sombre avant blackened beauty.” Then I wondered what on earth the label were on about describing the band as “masters of sophisticated primitivism” and was not sure what that even meant. Play was pressed and, well to put it mildly I was in for a bit of a shock as this was an entirely different affair from the romanticism that had proceeded it and I was met by a caustic barrage of drums and something that was both primitive and sophisticated; now it was all making some sort of sense.
Without listening to all the other albums I can only hazard a guess that I had jumped into the bands oeuvre with an album that was a bit of a sidestep from their modus operandi. Perhaps Zentrum is more in line with what they normally do. Although not the cinematic listening experience I was expecting there was no problem getting to grips with the material in front of me and I thankfully found myself rapidly liking it. Germanic titles translate to the likes of ‘Red Eyes,’ ‘Alpha Comet,’ ‘Near Death’ and ‘Swords Of Time’ which may well give a notion of the futurism I explored before. The choral spacey start leads into a flattening and hostile drum bombast and guttural militant vocals and things march off in an imperious fashion. There is no doubt about it this approach takes on a very Frostian fashion with a bit of the weirdness of earlier Bethlehem about it. It’s handy being told that a certain Tom G Warrior really likes the band and I think it’s fair to say the feeling is mutual as this thuds away and yells out with brute force following it every step of the way. The trio make a hellish racket here and there is a post-modern industrialism feel about the music as we move into Alphakomet which has some Triptykon like chops and a bit of olden Samael about it in execution. As for the lyrics, although in German I can’t help but think ‘God Is Dead’ is being hollered out with some sort of Nietzschean fury. Underlying keyboards add space and the ambient ending on this particular number herald ghastly and strange atmospheres. The band manage to add these without extending their songs to over the 4-5 minute mark keeping everything nice and compact.
The industrial edge comes to the fore on Anomalie and it has a real Godfleshian bludgeon about it. However as it proceeds with clean vocal harmonies it mutates into a very different fleshy form that is certainly odd. There’s some odd sounds on this one that really do sound out of place and unfortunately bug me a bit though; not sure what that’s all about but it definitely distracts. As songs continue to churn and chunder with malignant hostility everything seems to fit together and make some sort of sense despite obvious things like language barriers. There are times with clean vocals one can’t help think of Teutonic copyists Rammstein and wonder what an audience would make of Valborg supporting them; no doubt they would be frightened to death. Songs like Ultragrab take on a doomy demeanour but are no less hostile for it; Godflesh again are reminiscent here but the guttural vocal clamour makes it all the more alien as it plods and stomps away. As we explore the ‘Nuns Star’ the shimmering chords invoke the arcane majesty of Killing Joke too so it’s no surprise that with the sum of its parts combined this was always going to be an intriguing listen. The drumming on numbers such as Kreuzer is phenomenal in its mechanical and machine like barrage and Florian Toyka does a fantastic job throughout the album. Actually I am in awe to a certain extent of all players, the atmospheric guitar, hefty bass work and anguished vocals all work excellently together giving tracks a formidable abrasiveness. There’s even some hefty death belches for fans to grunt along to with penultimate number Schwerter der Zeit sounding like any form of psychiatry has definitely gone off the rails and the patient is on the verge of going postal. I did like the way the band have a bit of a sing-along just before the album ends too. With 2 very different albums in front of me I can’t say I have completely got to grips with Valborg yet and think there is some further exploration of this strange and enigmatic act to be done. It’s certainly been an interesting journey so far.
(8/10 Pete Woods)