Italy’s Selvans was formed by four ex-members of Draugr after that band’s breakup in 2013, and their very brief history is one of both tragedy and fierce ambition. After completing most of the vocals and all of the drums on the band’s debut EP, Clangores Plenilunio, Jonny Morelli died tragically in a motorcycle accident. He and his bandmates, however, left quite the foundation in the form of this EP, which presents a very engaging, if somewhat derivative blend of symphonic and folksy black metal (keys, soaring passages, flute, etc.); the early ...In the Woods cover felt quite at home, to be sure. Between the release of the EP in February and recording of full-length debut Lupercalia, bassist Stolas left the ranks, leaving Selvans (officially) as a two-piece, with Sethlans Fulguriator handling guitars, bass, and clean vocals, and Selvans Haruspex taking care of other vocals, keyboards, and a heap of “traditional” instrumentation.
What these two men have produced would undoubtedly bring great pride to their fallen bandmate, as Lupercalia is both magnificent and ambitious to the point of being almost overwhelming at times. The list of influences one can hear throughout the album is extensive, but Selvans rarely if ever overreaches. Rather, they bring excitement to these huge, broad strokes of arrangements, delivering a kind of theatrical and aggressive escapism that more than makes up for the occasional moment when things could be trimmed or refined a bit. (Thankfully, those moments are largely limited to the first true song, “Versipellis,” which really only finds failure in comparison to the rest of the album, as it still surpasses everything on the very enjoyable EP.)
In general, Selvans smashes the folk-centric and instrumental variety of Negura Bunget into the grandiose blackened symphony of Emperor and the violent tremolo riffs of Dawn. They blast furiously at times while taking on more of a moderate pace at others. Melody is always a focus, as is aggression, even when the keyboards are featured front and center. Flutes, piano, mouth harp, and countless other elements all add to the dramatic flair, which is really the band’s greatest strength.
To find this skill operating at maximum strength, one needs to only stick around for “O Clitumne!,” which mixes an unabashed love for huge, sweeping keyboard melodies with a keen dynamic sense in all facets: tempo, vocal intensity, instrumentation, everything. That both the main keyboard and tremolo guitar melodies call to mind a massive Old World Italianness only adds greatly to the experience, a feeling that carries well into the blast-ridden climax. The song instantly elevates all that comes before and after, and plants extra anticipation for similar drama in both “Hirpi Sorani” and “Scurtchìn” (the former a tad more Om, the latter a tad more Slaughtersun).
Lupercalia wisely saves its ultimate achievement for finale “N.A.F.H.,” which happens to parallel – intentionally or not – techniques used in a couple of other masterful album closers. After a brooding, intimidating opening, the song drops into quiet, not bursting back into the fire until suspense is at its peak (“Blackwater Park,” anyone?). It then delivers several minutes of the best collection of sounds that Selvans has yet to conjure in their young career. And then, with seven of its over 17 minutes still to go, it drops into a scream-ridden, exhaustive lurch, and it sustains this successfully for the duration. It instantly makes one think of Wodensthrone’s “The Name of the Wind” in its desire to swap out speed and violence for a unified determination, but this goes further with some key eerie sounds and a spectacularly desperate vocal performance. It’s a draining, dominating end to an album that both needed and deserved such a finish, and a clear “there’s no other way they could have done that” moment.
There’s not much else to say, really. Selvans has an elite knack for all aspects of their sound. They are absolutely unabashed in all layers of their theatricality, from their obvious Italian melodies to the mental anguish of the final track, yet this never comes at the sacrifice of even one iota of their aggression and black metal furor. This mix links them directly to several of the bands mentioned above, and the quality of Lupercalia means that Selvans has no need to shy from such comparisons. Even with that one track being merely really good, this one gets just about the highest of recommendations.