Valborg - _Crown of Sorrow_
(Zeitgeister Music, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
Mercurial, claustrophobic, and at the same time expansive, airy and dark. These are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when listening to the newest effort by the highly unorthodox and creative German act, Valborg. It may sound strange, but each time I listen to _Crown of Sorrow_, I have somewhat of a synesthetic experience: each song creates such an atmosphere of oppressive heaviness, interspersed with pulses of almost meditative calmness that the first set of images and smells that come to my mind are rain -- from wickedly powerful torrents to light and almost non-existent mists -- falling against heavy and immovable concrete slabs. Yes, it's a very strange way to describe Valborg's beautifully austere music, but to me it's accurate.

With _Crown of Sorrow_ Valborg push the limits of progressive extreme metal even further than on their previous effort, 2009's _Glorification of Pain_. I'm hard-pressed, really, to furnish the reader with comparisons, but if I have to I would say that Valborg are an even more progressive and heavier version of Enslaved in their latest incarnation (i.e., _Vertebrae_) crossed with _Written in Waters_ era Ved Buens Ende and some modern day Celtic Frost / Triptykon for good measure. Each of the eight tracks on _Crown of Sorrow_, spanning just over thirty-five minutes, surrounds the listener with an extreme and oftentimes unpredictable sonic purview: from occasional heavy barrages of thrash beats, to slow, monolithic, and almost hypnotising riffs and chords, exuding harshness with every down-stroke, to open and breathless passages featuring "Blade Runner" (Vangelis) type synth accents coupled with clean and lightly distorted string contemplations.

Vocally, this band spans an impressive gamut: the duo of Christian Kolf (guitars and vocals) and Jan Buckard (bass and vocals) cover deep spoken passages to death bellows which sound similar to a combination of Martin Schirenc (Pungent Stentch and Hollenthon) and Pasi Äljö from Unholy (the avantgarde doom/death band from Finland); to grunts and shouts that border the mighty Tom Warrior's gruff bawl. And then, when you'd least expect it, there are even some David Bowie-type trills on the monstrously epic, heavy metal themed "I Am Space" (perhaps the best kept secret of _Crown of Sorrow_). The overall production is clear and heavy; and each instrument is able to breathe individually through the mix -- nothing is drowned out here, and there is no competition between instruments.

Another aspect I really enjoy about _Crown of Sorrow_is the layout and cover artwork by Peter Böhme; he did an excellent job here. Much like the cover he made for _Glorification of Pain_, the style, colours and content -- which are reminiscent of Rodney Matthews' approach with those classic "Lord of the Rings" posters like "Tree Beard" -- evoke the same sense of steely foreboding atmosphere as their music; which meld perfectly to create a total musical and visual package.

To close, if you enjoy highly original, varied and genre-defying extreme metal bordering the likes of newer Enslaved, later-era Celtic Frost, Triptykon, and later-era Unholy (such as _Rapture_ and _Gracefallen_), then make sure to head on over to the brand new Zeitgeister Music site to order yourself a copy of _Crown of Sorrow_. It seems that the band are following a very interesting trajectory with their last two releases, so I can't wait to hear what the follow up album will be like.


(article published 4/9/2010)

5/15/2011 M Dolson 9 Valborg - Barbarian
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