Every once in a while an album comes along that isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but also doesn’t conveniently fit into any particular genre or sub-genre. A good example of this was Gojira’s From Mars to Sirius, which took the metal underground by storm but refused to be pigeonholed into one niche. It was easiest just to describe it as bludgeoningly heavy. Germany’s Valborg, who share members with Vendlus label-mates Island and Klabautamann, sound nothing like Gojira. Nor are they likely to explode in popularity as Gojira did. However, on their second full length album, Glorification of Pain, they undoubtedly share Gojira’s genre ambiguity. This album is neither groundbreaking nor easy to describe, but it is pretty damn cool.
So what does Glorification of Pain sound like? Well, it sounds like the album cover looks. Tragedy has created a sense of darkness, but this tragedy is not the focus of the music, nor is the perpetrating evil that lingers just below the surface. Instead, the music immerses the listener in the eerie darkness that lies between the tragedy and that which caused it. So if From Mars to Sirius was described as super heavy, Glorification of Pain can be described as extremely dark, without exactly fitting the dark metal tag. Valborg do pull in traits from dark metal, but also from post-doom and sludge, slow and plodding death, some riffs from the bucket of Mastodon (slowed down considerably), and the backward vibe of modern atmospheric black metal. The band doesn’t ape these genres in the least, instead only borrowing from their particular moods.
Glorification of Pain works far better as a full album than as individual tracks, but several songs stand well on their own. Openers “Whispers Of The Wizard” and “Epic Journey” set the mood with slightly angular riffs mostly slowed down to the point of doom, a bottom end bounce, and a certain menace that (again) lies just below the surface. “Chains Of Frost” offers variety mid-album by way of a different vocal delivery that bears resemblance to Tiamat’s Johan Edlund. The multi-sectioned “Occult Fog” has a bit of “post” and is the strongest track on the album. With the lyric “For I am ageless and alone in darkness,” it is clear that the darkness of Glorification of Pain has reached its climax, and is thus given a shift in mood by subsequent instrumental track “Celestial Opening.” Final track “Imperial Pandemonium” then takes this optimism and applies it to the doom-bounce that permeates the rest of the album. Tracks that work less well on their own, such as the aforementioned “Celestial Opening” or moody interlude “When Dusk Begins To Fall,” provide the glue between the main songs, and are more effective than the standard metal intermezzo. Although the album may be a bit short on truly brilliant moments, it comes together nicely and at less than 40 minutes never begins to wear out its welcome.
Band members Jan Buckard, Christian Kolf, and Patrick Schroeder play their parts well while never giving in to self-indulgence. The music on Glorification of Pain is not meant to feed the egos of the band members. It is obvious that these songs were jammed out extensively in the studio to help the album form its cohesion, thereby almost making the album feel live. Credit must also be given to Oliver Weiskopf for his layered and cavernous production which does as much to give the album its darkness as the music itself.
Glorification of Pain is simply not going to be for everyone. The album is strange, intimidating, and inaccessible. However, it will be for people who enjoy moody and menacing metal that is unique without relying on “avant-garde” cliches. Valborg is a band that seems like they could produce a masterpiece at some point in their career. While Glorification of Pain may not be this masterpiece, it is a damn fine album by a very intriguing band.