Album Title: Wild North West
Label: Season Of Mist
Date of Release: 30 April 2021
I have been following Vreid for many years, even covering their output first in the pages of Powerplay magazine way back when. But this is the first time that I have decided to review one of their albums for manofmuchmetal.com, for reasons that I am unable to fathom. Anyhow, it is a pleasure to be able to plunge back into the ‘black ‘n’ roll’ that is the way of this Norwegian quartet.
Only, there is something a little different about this record. Yes, it remains black ‘n’ roll at it’s heart, but ‘Wild North West’ feels different. It’s a concept album for starters, as explained best by Jarle Hváll Kvåle in the accompanying press release:
“Wild North West is a concept story about life itself and its eternal shadow: death. It is built around the world of our fictional character E, but it is surely inspired by my own life, my band’s life, historical events and many tales that have inspired me over the years. Is it a true story or fictional? I would have to say both, and sometimes is hard tell the difference.”
This concept has led, in part, to ‘Wild North West’ being arguably one of the most varied and surprising of Vreid’s nine releases. Not only do you get black ‘n’ roll in the traditional sense, but Vreid also serve up some of the most extreme, out-and-out black metal they’ve penned in a while, alongside some of the most accessible material within their discography. Throw in a smattering of thrash metal too, and we’re just about there in terms of an initial overview of this record.
Once the opening organ intro subsides, I double-take because we go from dark and ominous, into a mid-to-fast tempo riff, the first notes of which instantly remind me of the Top Gun soundtrack of all things. It’s a catchy, upbeat affair that I instantly take to, even if it is laced with Sture Dingsøyr’s raspy, sinister growl, and punctuated by slower sections that reprise the creepy-sounding intro. There’s also room for another change of pace, with a fast, cold black metal staccato riff coming from nowhere in the latter stages which, alongside blastbeats, provide a rousing, majestic black metal finale to the song.
‘Wolves At Sea’ is a much more pronounced black metal attack, complete with frantic drumming from Jørn Holen, and more icy riffing from guitarists Sture Dingsøyr and Stian Bakketeig. When the song does ease off the rampaging pace, guest Espen Bakketeig offers some additional keys, primarily in the form of a solemn piano. The closing section follows that of its predecessor by being a surprisingly melodic and majestic affair. ‘Shadows Of Aurora’ on the other hand, is not what you’d call ‘majestic’. Instead, it’s a full-on blackened thrash assault to the senses that reminds me just how much I’m loving my thrash these days; spiky, grim and attitude-laden, it is a great composition.
Despite the obvious black metal references thus far, I was completely unprepared for ‘Spikes Of God’. It’s a nasty, vicious and dense black metal affair that dials up the dissonance and the aggression beyond anything I think I have heard from these Norwegians before. It happens, somewhat ironically, to be my least favourite song on the album, but I like the way that it caught me totally off guard. Speaking of being caught unawares, the juxtaposition between this and the immediate follow-up couldn’t be more stark. ‘Dazed And Reduced’ is more of a Gothic tinged, accessible rock song with clean vocals and pronounced melodies. It’s an enjoyable mid-tempo stomp that vaguely reminds me of bands like Ghost, and it happens to be quite an infectious affair that I have grown to like.
Elsewhere on ‘Wild North West’, I really like ‘The Morning Red’. The opening, chugging riff is an utter delight, whilst country twang to the cleaner guitar parts is a surprisingly nice touch. The track rarely gets out of second gear in terms of pace. Instead, it focuses on creating a thick, cloying atmosphere, enhanced by some softly-delivered vocals that verge on whispers. The drumming is powerful and commanding, whilst the lead solos and embellishments add yet more depth to wht is possibly the best track on the album.
It is pushed close by the penultimate song, ‘Into The Mountains’, which features some angelic but oddly creepy children’s vocals to accent Jarle Hváll Kvåle’s rasp. The melodies are strong too, and the left-field turn just after the halfway stage is intriguing. Apparently, this song features the original demo tracks recorded by the sadly-deceased Valfar back in 2002, and together, it all works very well indeed. Not that this record required an element of nostalgia to sell it, but long-term Vreid fans as well as fans of Windir will no doubt join me in welcoming this touching homage to Valfar.
With Vreid, it tends to not be a case of ‘will I like it’, because invariably I do. However, the question should be ‘how much do I like it?’ And the answer is that I like ‘Wild North West’ a lot. Is it their best? Arguably not, given how much I like earlier releases like ‘V’ and its predecessor, ‘Milorg’. But there is so much variety and so much to get your head around, that it might take a little longer for me to reach my ultimate conclusion. That being said, suffice to say that ‘Wild North West’ is a great record from a band that show absolutely no signs of slowing up or lowering their already very high standards.
The Score Of Much Metal: 84%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: