Varus released their debut back in 2014 but aside from re-recording a track in the meantime not a lot has been heard from them since. But with a bit of a line-up shuffle and a new-found energy, this Symphonic Folk Metal band from Germany are finally ready to unleash its follow-up, fittingly titled “A New Dawn”. “Keyboardist Konstantin Raab steps forward to also take on lead vocals, and is still joined by original guitarist Stefan Schwarz, but a different drummer and bassist from the debut brings a new opportunity to do things just a little differently this time around.”

Varus on the debut had a rawer style – predominantly using a harsh almost gargled vocal style with an almost Black Metal musical standpoint, they coupled this sometimes awkwardly with anthemic choruses and bombastic keyboards. It had its moments and was a very competent debut, but it felt like it had a sound that just needed honing and polishing a bit. And really, that is what we have here, the harsh vocals are a bit smoother – more Bodom-esque, with a stance like Equilibrium of five or ten years ago along with good doses of Ensiferum. The rounded, chunky production means that when the band do launch into an almost Running Wild type sing-along chorus (like the excellent one in the title track), it fits really well, due to the vocal layering and the keyboards sounding much more like orchestration rather than synths.

There’s still a good helping of Symphonic Black Metal on tracks like ‘Ascheregren’, but this stands side-by-side admirably with the folk part of their sound, which is also dealt with in a more fluid manner than previously, utilizing real flute (check out the fabulous Ian Anderson style Tull-esque solo in ‘The Minstrels Chant!) along with the bouncy orchestration, making me think at times of Grimner on tracks like ‘Tränk dein Herz’. The titles of these tracks brings me nicely to another interesting trait the band have – effortlessly mixing German and English lyrics throughout the album, which also works really well. There’s such a great mix and variation of moods and influences on “A New Dawn”, which although on the debut felt a bit like a band fishing for a record deal, there is a cohesion this time around, like the band who have found their style and could produce many more albums of this high quality for any label in the future – giving Varus plenty of scope to embellish their already impressive repertoire.

(8/10 Andy Barker)