Vreid has hit a bit of an identity crisis. After the most consistent run of albums of their career (Milorg, V, and Welcome Farewell), they changed it up a bit on Sólverv. That somewhat surprising record saw this group of Norwegians play some of the rawer 90s-sounding black metal of their career (or of their careers in other bands), complete with some very Second Wave keyboards. It wasn’t at all necro, but compared to the arena prog- and thrash-tinged sounds of their recent past it felt like an indulgence of the primitive, a bit of a reset. It was a good record, but it was also definitely a sign that they were searching for a change.
First, the bad. “Hello Darkness” is at best a poor decision, and at worst embarrassing. It is Vreid attempting a gothy ballad-ish song, and every element falls flat, from the guitar production and cheesily morose guest vocals from Sólstafir’s Aðalbjörn Tryggvason to the generic structure and not-effectively-tongue-in-cheek cowbell.
At the polar opposite of this stinker, however, are the songs that still show Vreid at the top of their game, including the fiery title track and the ripping “Sokrates Must Die.” The former successfully switches between the album’s harshest black metal material and its most arena drives, while the latter calls to mind the most rageful songs from Milorg, containing both riffs and vocal passages tailor made for the live setting. Efficient, determined, and feral.
Most of the album sits somewhere between two these extremes in terms of quality. Both as a whole and within individual songs, Lifehunger is an exercise in great ideas butting heads with unfortunate choices and diversions. “One Hundred Years,” for example, makes the most use of immediately catchy riffs, softer passages, and blazing black metal, but the song also contains some faux-modern-Enslaved clean vocals that just don’t work, while the abrupt finish seems to betray the song’s attempts at dynamics. “Black Rites in the Black Nights,” meanwhile, also offers plenty of goodness (the opening solo build is pretty stunning), but overall feels bloated and spends too much time being ineffectively plodding. (Sidebar: It’s also a little disappointing that they’ve reduced the use of the sustained, intertwining, guitars-as-pipe-organ leads that were such a huge part of the Windir sound and had returned to Vreid when former Windir bandmate Strom joined the ranks. Play to your strengths, Vreid; you have many.)
Ultimately, it isn’t the stylistic semi-mishmash that holds Lifehunger back, but the lack of consistently top notch material. When Vreid has been at their best – which thankfully has been on the majority of their albums – they’ve delivered the goods no matter the particularly approach. Long time fans will still find some good Vreidnes here, but there’s unfortunately no denying that Lifehunger fits more into the aggressively mediocre minority of the band’s albums than the great majority.
Oh well, at least the new Cor Scorpii album kills. Then again, Cor Scorpii no longer includes any active members of Vreid among their ranks… Interesting.