Blood. The life force that flows through us all. Some are repelled by the sight or even the very thought of it; some find a primal, sexual fascination stemming from its power over life and death. A dollop of blood from a shaving nick can be wiped away without so much as a second thought; yet, when copious amounts start gushing from that stub of what you called an arm before you decided to take up chainsaw juggling on the weekends, it becomes cause for immediate alarm. It’s the vital life source for mammals, and throughout humanity’s history, it has taken on roles as both a tangible and metaphysical symbol for life and death. From the ancient blood-caked stone of sacrificial altars to the collecting of the blood of Christ in the Holy Grail to legends of vampires preying on the sanguine nectar of human life, blood is one of the elements of existence that all people hold sacred to varying degrees.
Blood can be divided into different groups based on whether or not it contains the A or B antigen (or both, or neither), as well as the presence or absence of a certain protein known as the Rh factor, which denotes a blood type as positive or negative. Without delving too deep into the science, there is one blood type compatible with all others: O negative**.
The heart at the center of Valdrin that pushes this blood into motion is centered around a mythos created by the band itself. Much like their musical style, this mythos is created by plucking bits of classical religion, lore, and occult legend and seamlessly creating something that is distinctly Valdrin. With only three albums, the band is already weaving a complex tale of Valdrin Ausadjur. Beyond The Forest introduced us to the underworld of Orcus. The follow-up, 2018’s Two Carrion Talismans, served as a prequel of sorts, describing the rise of antagonist Nex Animus in the imaginative realm of Orcus. Effigy Of Nightmares concludes Animus’ rise to reigning terror in the nightmarish corridors of Hosptium Mortis, torturing and eventually lobotomizing the gods that stand in the way of his powermad conquest of Orcus — essentially injecting principles of occult thought into a high-level Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Pretty cool stuff.
Of course, no amount of complicated concept can hold up without the chops to bring it to full fruition. Based on previous works, Valdrin has a knack for drawing executional inspiration from their concept — the two work harmoniously creating well-rounded, adventurous albums. Effigy stands as no exception. Without ever stepping outside of extreme metal, Valdrin has created a progressive work; perhaps not in the usual sense of adding pseudo-jazz elements or strange time signatures, but more so in creating songs that truly progress and tell a story.
After the brief intro provided by “Gates Of Hospice,” we’re right back into the world of Orcus where Two Carrion Talismans left off. The production and sound aren’t too far off from the band’s previous works, which certainly helps to add a cohesiveness to their overall vision. The recording is well balanced and clear — yet there is enough of a haze to spark the imagination and beg for a deeper listen. If anything, the atmosphere on Effigy is a bit thicker with malice, a bit more immediate, and a lot closer to ruthless chaotic violence than the band’s previous works. The changes across “Exsanguination Tunnels” can be abrupt, but as the song unfolds, the riffs and melodies intertwine and call back to one another that creates this sense of construction — Valdrin is keeping things cohesive without falling into the traps of riff salad held together by Elmer’s school glue. There’s an intent here that stands as the crucial ingredient, standing as the capillary between the heart of the story and the adrenal pulse of the music.
The dueling guitar work at the forefront of “Red Burning Candles Of Hatred” is a perfect example of the dynamics that bring Valdrin’s sound to life. The syncopated rhythms accenting the shrill flurry of tremolo picking is by no means a new trick — in fact, it’s one that’s been done to the point of stagnation — yet Valdrin makes it feel new and fresh. That excitement of hearing Watain for the first time before hearing a thousand clones is reignited. No small feat for a black metal band hailing from Cincinnati. The progression mentioned previously pushes fresh oxygen into the Valdrinian blood as the band rapidly switches between familiar, repeating phrases and melodies into a spiral of twists and turns in the songwriting without ever losing the flow of the song. Much like that sweet sanguine liquid it is purely an organic product — everything moves naturally, even from song to song as “Serpentine Bloodhalls” leaks out of the previous track with its conspiring, ominous guitar picking and airy chimes of synth.
At an extremely brief thirty-three minutes, Effigy Of Nightmares cuts Valdrin’s debut almost perfectly in half in terms of runtime. Not that it feels as though the band is running low on ideas. In fact, Effigy demonstrates a mature constraint as it highlights a particularly detailed, if not graphic portion of the history of Nex Animus and his tyrannical rule over Orcus. The conclusion of the album, without dropping any spoilers, ends so abruptly and leaves such a final period on this chapter of Valdrin’s ongoing tale that it just leaves the listener begging for more. In terms of sound, Valdrin captured the aftermath of the second wave of black metal, that portion of the Nineties and early Aughts that lividified black blood beneath the flesh of heavy metal, as though they were drinking straight from the same vein of inspiration as Dawn or Sacramentum. Granted, this is an era that’s been copied and redone ad nauseam, but Valdrin harnesses the true spirit of the era in a way that feels pure and organic, as though the band is capturing the essence of Swedish melodic black metal and shaping it into their own macabre, otherworldly tale beneath the twisted corridors of Hosptium Mortis. The bloodshed on Effigy Of Nightmares stands on its own as an excellent work worthy of praise, not only on it’s own but also within the context of the trilogy (thus far) of albums Valdrin has delivered since their inception.
**Insert your own witty Peter Steele reference here!