The seed is a simple, descending tremolo line, a riff repeated in slightly different ways over the course of a phrase, but arriving at the same destination each time. It is featured in an obvious way, allowing roots to spread throughout the song, both to passages before and possibilities after. As the song evolves through all of its various tempo, rhythm, intensity, and volume variations, that main theme is always in the listener’s mind, whether or not a particular section is directly reflecting it.
The song is “Convergence” from Realm of Sacrifice, the debut offering from Vanum, a new act from Kyle Morgan (Ash Borer) and Michael Rekevics (Vorde, Fell Voices). The song’s quality comes not from anything particularly new, but rather from a proper homage to the band’s black metal heroes via the general sound and that key songwriting technique. Without that linchpin passage, the entirety of the song’s 12-plus minutes would fall apart. The greatest of their heroes – from Wolves in the Throne Room to Drudkh – have all used this technique to brilliant effect, many a time. This isn’t exclusive to this type of epic, long-song-black-metal (in pop it’s just called a hook), but in music so patient and deliberate, it adds depth, rewarding listeners for repeated listens.
This kind of organic songcraft is at work throughout Realm of Sacrifice, with a somewhat narrow but well-utilized set of black metal tools acting as the branches that emerge from each song’s roots. The Wolves in the Throne Room comparisons are apt, as would be comparisons to several other west coast USBM acts (parallels to Morgan’s work in Ash Borer can be heard, although Vanum is never so bleak). But perhaps more important is the huge debt they owe to early Drudkh. If the heaps of mid-paced, bending, and cyclical riffs are any indication, these boys worship at the throne of Forgotten Legends. Far worse places to start, for sure.
Much of the rest of Realm of Sacrifice employs these sounds and techniques to great effect, even if “Convergence” is the only song that sees Vanum reaching truly stunning levels. Both “In Immaterial Flame” and the closing title track show plenty of dynamics, the former reaching new heights with aggression, fluttering riffs through blast-heavy passages, and the latter being most memorable for some 6/8 mid-tempo material. Only opener “Realm of Ascension” falls a bit flat; pleasant enough, but lacking the peaks and valleys of the rest of the album.
It is pretty constantly clear that Realm of Sacrifice owes a massive debt to its strongest influences. This may be both its greatest quality and largest pitfall, initially hooking listeners but possibly also pushing them back to those better-known bands with time. Despite some moments of inspired and staggering quality, Realm of Sacrifice is not yet the full package of a Forgotten Legends or Diadem of 12 Stars. And that’s okay: very few among us are perfect from the start, and the roots laid down by Vanum on their debut are already quite strong.