This year seems quite different from last year. In 2017, the scene became so populated with new albums that for every two I got, there were six or eight that I had missed. Honestly, I’m still trying to catch up, and I couldn’t be happier that there is so much material out there. Abusively curb-stomping their way into 2018 is Varmia, a band that just formed in 2016 and has now released its second full-length today, W Ciele Nie. It seems these guys who took their name from the name of the northern region of Poland in which they live and the inspiration for their compositions, are hungry. That sentiment could not be better conveyed than by listening to this treasure containing nine songs characterized by the blending of traditional black metal with folk and even some doom elements. According to the band’s label’s site (pagan-records.com), the album was recorded in a barn that they converted into a makeshift studio. Furthermore, the vocals and folk instruments were actually recorded live in the very forests of Warmia, a region in northern Poland. It doesn’t get more black metal than that.
The album literally starts off like an uppercut to the chin from the very first second. “TAWE” is the name of the first track, and it introduces the ears to Varmia‘s brand of aural assault which comes across in the classic rough sound of black metal, almost lo-fi, but aptly capturing the essence of the band. One gets vibes of conflict, aggression, and hate when letting the song work its way through the mind. This is abrasive yet focused, well-written black metal. One of the most impressing aspects presented is the drum sound which literally sounds like a platoon of soldiers are marching on the roof. In perfect contrast, the guitar goes on to play clean, crystalline chords which ring out infecting the air, yet all the while, the drums maintain the driving, forceful, militant assault. The band ups the ante with the second track, “biesowisko” with its diverse usage of noise rock elements and absolutely massive bass sound. The clean vocals which occur during the chorus sound a bit like old Enslaved or even early Ulver, but the true highlight of the song is at the 3:50 mark where after relentless blasting and screaming, the guitar simply plays the bleak, minor-key chords of the song while super-slowly chugging on the bottom strings effectively morphing into an impressive breakdown. I couldn’t help but wonder if the band had been listening to Crowbar while writing this. “Ni ya” is the fifth track, and just when I started zoning out and becoming distracted, the blasting returns with brutality and jagged, hurtful guitar chords. Next, the monster chords performed by the guitar are joined with folk-inspired passages of violin adding a whole new dimension. When combined, the music is slowed down, and the low, guttural vocals truly make the song come alive. The seventh track, “Now sie rodzi,” contains my absolute favorite part, and it shows that subtle things can certainly cause a good song to be a great song. What I’m referring to is a part of the song where the guitar is rigorously strumming just the higher notes of the chosen chord progression while underneath, the distorted bass is playing the low notes to blend in and it works.
Instrumentally, one of the key aspects of the band that sets them apart from others in black metal is the prominent role given to the bass. As mentioned earlier, the guitar can focus on truly letting the melody ring out while the bass provides the low-end girth, and the end result is that the band sounds solid, forceful, and as one. The bass at times seems to be moving like an erratically purposeful flying saucer as it goes up and down the chords emphasizing notes that would otherwise fly under the radar. A point of reference for what I’m describing would be to listen to practically any Opeth song and take note of the bass’s fluid motion, or “Individual Thought Patterns” by Death which features the mighty Steve Digiorgio, though he’s playing a fretless. Folks will most likely love or hate the drums on this record. They definitely are not bright and triggered or using effects, but instead they are constant, resembling holding the trigger on a machine gun, relentlessly pounding the album to a deadlier place. It’s interesting how the guitar at times focuses on eerie, wicked chords clearly ringing out while furiously strumming (much like classic Mayhem, but more purposefully poignant), and all the while the bass is driving the low end. The band definitely have the ears to be able to determine how to best utilize all of the myriad instruments on the recording. At times, it seems as if the band is trying to refine the listeners’ ears in the way, for instance, the acoustic plays folk-inspired passages that are minor or diminished in order to give the song that ominous sound that pervades black metal. Those passages help the listener to connect the acoustic chords to the mayhem that occurs on the electric. Vocally, this is a standard black metal affair, though there are some clean passages that while they aren’t as refined as Ihsahn or Garm, still push the envelope and show that the band is trying to create original, epic black metal.
Clearly Varmia are still in their formative stage, but they are admirably unafraid to experiment. It’s exciting to come across a band that, like so many great bands, have a plethora of ideas that are incredibly impressive. Listening to this conjured the same vibe I had in high school when I first discovered Ulver and their classic debut “Bergtatt.” Varmia couldn’t be coming from a better place for they are using the high point of black metal a la Emperor and Dissection as the basis which they expand upon, classic top-notch black metal as the canvas upon which they create adding folk elements, doom-flavored riffs, well-played bass, and their own unique, cold, violent atmosphere. One has to admire the fact that the band is unafraid of putting some groove in the music to mix things up a bit as well. I cannot help but be stoked that I’ve found a band to put on my “underground favorites” list, but perhaps I haven’t yet grown up because part of me doesn’t want to share my discovery. All joking aside, let it be known that Varmia, on their second album, have proven themselves to be a band to watch: their personalized sound is capable of truly innovating not just black metal, but extreme metal in general.
Lasota – vocals, guitar, classic guitar
Ćwiara – bass, backing vocals, classic guitar
Emil – drums
Piotr – tagelharpa, goat horn, wooden tube, krivula, percussions, backing vocals