Album Title: The Deepening
Label: Prophecy Productions
Date of Release: 19 January 2024
It has taken a decade for this album to see the light of day but there’s an argument to suggest that time has little meaning in the town of Namsos, Norway. Inhabited by just over eight thousand, Namsos is an historic timber trading town, tucked away in the Fjords, approximately three hours north of the nearest city of Trondheim, and the home to a trio of musicians that collectively go by the name of Vemod. ‘The Deepening’ is the sophomore release from Jan Even Åsli (lead & rhythm guitars, clean vocals, synths, all composition and lyrics), Eskil Blix (drums, harsh vocals), and Espen Kalstad (bass) and, after quite a lot of listening, it has finally struck a bit of a nerve with me.
I’ve been a fan of atmospheric black metal, and blackgaze for quite a while, as many of you will be aware. It’s no surprise then, that I decided to check out ‘The Deepening’ based on the genre description alone, having previously been completely unaware of the band’s existence. It certainly wasn’t an instant hit with me either. Comprised of just six tracks, two of which weigh in at a combined length of just two minutes and forty seconds, it is left to the remaining four to do the heavy lifting here, spanning over 45 minutes as they do. I initially found the going rather slow, ponderous, lacking in variety, and a bit too overly reliant on post-metal elements to the detriment of the black metal. Dare I say that the first couple of spins veered towards ‘boring’ territory? Well, I have to be honest, so yes, that’s exactly what I thought at the outset.
However, I persevered, and my epiphany came a few nights ago when, with the children asleep, I reached for my headphones and laid back in the near darkness to try again.
As with many bands of this ilk, the production is raw, basic, and quite muddy in places, with the drums in particular sounding distant at times. Deliberate this may well be, but the result is that the music lacked some clarity when played through my car speakers, or indeed whilst tapping away on my computer, working on the day job in my office. Additionally, as I have discovered, this isn’t the kind of music that you can have on in the background or take a cursory listen to; you need to be paying attention, allowing the music to seep into your ears and brain to the exclusion of all else. When you do this, it all starts to make some sense, and as I discovered, it leads to a certain amount of embarrassment that I was so close to passing on this record at the outset.
Created by Jan Even Åsli at the turn of the millennium as a then 12-year-old, you can hear that the passion and dedication remains at the heart of this music. What began as a bit of a chore to listen to, has blossomed into something altogether more special, and rather mesmeric at times. The fact that it has taken a decade to follow-up their debut, ‘Venter på stormene’ just underlines the care, and attention to detail that this trio have poured into ‘The Deepening’.
‘Mot oss, en ild’ starts things off, but just as minute-long instrumental opening to the record. Arguably, it could have just formed part of the following track, as an atmospheric intro, but instead, ‘Der Guder dør’ explodes into life, immediately assaulting the ears with a blast of icy cold distortion and sense of controlled aggression, before the pace is increased and we’re confronted by fast drumming and staccato riffs, the staple of many a black metal modus operandi. However, as intense and unrelenting as the pace is, Vemod cleverly imbue the composition with elegant melodies that simmer just below the surface, or more overtly via some poignant lead guitar lines, recurring throughout the thirteen-minute epic. There’s a hypnotic, repetitive feel until the halfway mark when everything dies away only to eventually build up again, slowly, methodically, led by a military-sounding snare drum tattoo. Choral voices, playful bass, trebly guitar notes and delicate lead guitar embellishments bring with them a much more post-metal feel, alongside a sense of heightened atmosphere, of grandeur, but also of solitude, loneliness, and a certain amount of sorrow.
‘True North Beckons’ follows, and at under ten minutes is only marginally less imposing. The pace is more mid-tempo from the outset, whilst the growls feel more prominent somehow, despite being used sparingly. I have grown to love this song, as the melodies increase in potency with each passing listen, carrying with them a great sense of melancholy, but also a majestic beauty that becomes utterly compelling. I also love the way that the pace is varied, too, with bursts of greater speed interjected at points along the way, as well as an almost seamless interweaving of more post-metal ideas and traits within what remains ostensibly a black metal track, until the final two or three minutes, when the intensity and extremity is dropped for the most part in favour of a much more serene and minimalist post-metal soundscape that’s just gorgeous.
As good as ‘Inn I lysande natt’ is, with its strong Long Distance Calling post-metal vibes, I want to end this review with a greater focus on the closing sixteen-minute behemoth that’s the title track. I have grown to really love this song in spite of its slightly imposing length. At the beginning of the composition, we’re treated to the most overt clean vocals heard anywhere previously and they are a very welcome addition, lending the song a more elegiac, ethereal feel. Coupled with the serene melodies that juxtapose the distorted guitars and frenetic drumming, I feel genuinely moved by music. The album may cover the themes of ‘change, transience, transformation, and growth’ but there’s something about this track that punches me in the gut, and I end up fighting back the urge to shed a tear. The vocals beginning at just shy of the eight-minute mark are simple but devastatingly poignant, whilst the quiet, minimalist unravelling at the end is just the perfect way to end the album, sending one or two final shivers down my spine as it disappears gently.
If the descriptions I’ve given to you within this review appeal, then I really do recommend that you give it your attention – your full attention – because it might just become a slow burning gem for you, too. Partly atmospheric black metal, partly post metal, partly blackgaze; completely marvellous.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%