Somewhere out in the nebulous immensity of the cosmos, directly on the curve between fabrication and factuality, floats a land inhabited by the peculiar cerebral offspring of the three eccentrics who make up Deutschland’s purveyors of heavy metal quirk, Valborg. It’s an oddball, forbidden-fable continent colonized by beasts begat from the musical myths woven not only by the dudes’ darkly pessimistic Valborg project, but also through their other metallic outlets: Island, Woburn House and Klabautamann.
Though the four entities remain separate at their respective cores, there are indeed musical overlaps on occasion, and they’ve been hitched together over the years by a common goal of phonically painting dark and dismaying landscapes that howl strange lore through the medium of extreme music. If their albums were fairy-tales, they’d be penned by Maurice Sendak wearing studded gauntlets. Books: Neil Gaiman tragically serenading with Clive Barker. Movies: Nightbreed under the dooming eye of Dario Argento. Brooding, peculiar stuff tailor-made for metal fans with a more adventurous palate.
Of the four territories that comprise this fabled Germanic continent, the Valborg region is undoubtedly the darkest. 2009’s Glorification of Pain set the stage with its inky, smothering and oddly subdued approach to progressive death-ish metal, but Crown of Sorrow opens the windows and lets things air out a bit more. The slightly angular Voivod inspired riffing still jumps to the foreground fairly often when measures are harsher, especially during opener “Wisdom from the Vortex,” and we still find instrumental cuts such as “Ancient Horrors” that wander very close to the electric, casual mellowness of self-titled-era Island material. Crown of Sorrow incorporates even more divergence compared to the 2009 effort, however – the most significant difference being the inclusion of celestial keyboards to add yet another dimension to the dark Valborg sound. Tunes such as the excellent “Thunderbolt,” “Tristesse” and the album’s longest cut, “I Am Space” use them rather sparingly to amplify a very eerie mood, but they take center stage for the brief instrumental “Transcending the Sorrows of an Earth Unseen.”
Also further spicing the stew are a handful of new vocal approaches. I absolutely love the inclusion of the booming, nearly spoken voice at the heart of “Thunderbolt,” and the way this same cut ushers in a new low in terms of grumbly gruffness when the embittered Nocturnal Lord makes his entrance. The rest of the material mixes in bits of deep, gothic muttering (“Tristesse”) to suit mellowness, and plenty of familiar nods to Tom Warrior, a person who’s actually come out and given the official nod to Valborg due to the strength of their live performances.
Those who fell headfirst and happily into the cozy darkness of Glorification of Pain will undoubtedly find loads to enjoy here. And if you’ve yet to receive the Valborg indoctrination and love the idea of weirdly progressive heavy metal with mountains of peculiar twists and turns, welcome to one of your top albums of 2010.