Three years after the release of their debut and just nine months following its reissue from new label, Metal Blade, Valkyrja lay upon us ten new tracks of infective Swedish black metal in Contamination. Whereas The Invocation of Demise drew relatively heavily on influence from the usual suspects (Immortal, most notably), its unbridled viciousness was enough to set it apart from like-minded acts in the field. Now, with their sophomore effort, Valkyrja appear to be finding their own voice (sometimes literally, as A.L. is no longer channeling Abbath), stepping outside of the box a bit with a stronger emphasis on breadth and variation.
Although the acoustic interludes spliced into the last album’s heavy black attack (read: Opeth-iness) played well, that arrangement sometimes felt like a bit of forced opposition. Valkyrja have done well to supplant that approach with a less derivative and more effective infusion of menacing atmospherics that work as a complement to the overarching ferocity. Many of the songs are a touch longer to accommodate this dynamic, with “Catharsis (Contaminate the Earth)” stretching the hazy glow of tremolo over relentless double bass for extended periods between bouts of mercilessly blastbeaten rage for a full eight minutes. “A Cursed Seed in the World” and “The Adversarial Incentive Within All” (the latter of these sporting some impressively eerie lead work), close out the record in similar fashion, but with a touch of Glorior Belli’s dank Southern blackness.
What’s not lost in any of this is Valkyrja’s affection for ugliness. These songs are just plain nasty (see opener, “Oceans to Dust”, and “Welcoming Worms”), owing much to a fine production job that yields often warm, always biting guitars that serve to raise the effectiveness of A.L.’s bitter vocals. The bass guitar is afforded a little more space than what we’re used to in black metal and benefits from killer tone that renders it as tight as it is massive. And the whole of Contamination’s sound is given greater weight by the mighty hammer of the drums, every deep hit of which is all-encompassing.
Valkyrja do tend to overextend things at times, pushing ideas a bit further than they’ve got it in them to go, but the band manage to work around this periodically by throwing down the riff gauntlet, as in “Catharsis…” (3:32) and “The Adversarial Incentive Within All” (3:25ish), a strategy that saves a couple of these tunes from drowning in themselves. Similarly, even as Contamination is loaded with tons of neat (near-) melody courtesy of guitarists, S.W. and A. Hed, it sure would have been nice to have more time devoted to outright solos, such as those that grace “The Womb of Disease” on this one and “The Vigil” on Invocation.
It’s great to see this talented black metal act deliver on their first offering for Metal Blade, a label with the resources and moxie to bestow Contamination upon the masses with force and efficiency not enjoyed by most in heavy music. Though not quite yet flirting with elite status, the level of growth they show here without a shred of compromise puts Valkyrja at the forefront of upstart black metal bands to watch.