Eight months ago, back in October, a three track demo, the first release from a newly formed Black Metal duo residing in Vänersborg, Sweden landed on our desk as they were shopping for labels and looking to give us a glimpse of what their barren World would look like when they finished the full length record they were working on. That Black Metal duo are Adam Chapman (guitars) and Lars Hansson (vocals, bass) who have taken the moniker Åskog with a session drummer simply known as Rod B. assisting them in their depictions of the brutal horrors of the World around us in nature and that record is “Varþnaþer“.
Recorded and produced by the band themselves before being mixed and mastered by Adam Chapman at Black Dawn Studios, the two former members of Murdryck have chosen the title “Varþnaþer” (pronounced “Vard-na-der”) for the record which features a pair of cuts from that original demo in “Varg” and “Korp” and is all in the Swedish language. As with that demo, there is plenty of non-purist Black Metal elements which creep into the music of Åskog, with opening flesh ripper “Svält” (or “Starvation“) setting the tone. It has a brilliant and vibrant solo in the final third after the usual bone snapping blast beats and banshee wails before “Vinter” (or “Winter“) takes a longer, more drawn out approach, giving us blackened melodies and ethereal moments of haunting evil. “Tid” (or “Time“) is a much more classically Black Metal with lyrics like “Frozen in time, the crystal clear mine immortalized, A timeless tale is painted there, The cosmos throws time incurably forward” echoing against a timeless soundscape of music that will please many a fan of bands like Enslaved or Rimfrost. Largely a mid-paced piece of work, the record has some well executed tempo shifts and a warmer and less abrasive guitar tone than most recent Black Metal albums we’ve had the pleasure of, something which can be a double edged sword. On the one hand it could make the duo something of a gateway to hell; on the other it may serve to anger fans of the more traditional, time honored approach. The musicianship is second to none, the time has clearly been put into crafting this sound, combining the warmth of the music with the harsh, cold lyrics that leave nothing to the imagination.
As the record plays out it becomes apparent that Åskog are in the motions of transcending Black Metal into Extreme Metal and have evolved somewhat from that demo into a different beast, follow the likes of Belphegor and perhaps even Batushka down the road less travelled. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty here to enjoy and fans of Murdryck will recognize the music that the duo create as they have essentially extended the premises and foundations that they created there for this project. Perhaps slightly over long, “Måne” (or “Moon“) drags the corpse from the morgue to the grave over seven minutes of brooding atmospherics but lacks that gut punch moment to seal the deal before the second half of the record continues the sinister, brooding approach with some menacing moments in “Varg” (or “Wolf“). It too echoes bands like Paradise Lost and even Type O Negative with some Doom and even Gothic touches that you may not have expected. The short bursts of nuance giving it just enough to pull it along with a slow and drawn out solo wrapped in throat splitting vocal parts. “Eld” (or “Fire“) has a couple of bass solo parts that help to build the rich melodies create the place for the melancholic first half of “Aska” (or “Ash“) before it sets the World ablaze. Åskog have delivered a memorable atmospheric Extreme Metal record that is full of promise, it will be intriguing to see where there journey takes them from this dark forest and if they are able to continue to strike such a fine balance between Black and Extreme Metal [7/10]