Vestindien – Verdande Review

Typically the foreword of a written work is not written by the author of the main work itself, the intent being to give an outside, enlightening perspective on the author and/or to give historical or perhaps biographical context to the forthcoming piece. A well-written foreword seizes the reader’s attention and guides their imagination into the novel’s canyons and around its peaks before plunging into the depths of its, as yet, uncharted waters. That being said, dear reader, this is not the foreword for which you seek. As the newest recruit to the Last Rites roster you might think I have some actual pedigree – I don’t. You might think that maybe I wouldn’t write my own foreword considering the content of that first paragraph – I did.

My hope is that through florid description, passable metaphor and more than a few winks and nods you might be convinced to check out some new music and maybe, just maybe, enrich your own lives in the process. At the very least you should keep coming back to your favorite website in the whole wide world, my writing be damned.
-Isaac Hams

I believe the primary impetus in writing this review was to appease my inner monologue which has been tapping its feet impatiently at the threshold of my frontal lobe, its desperate need to categorize manifesting as palpable, sweaty anxiety. If any of you are even half as silly as me, you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time dissecting and compartmentalizing bands into their genre, subgenre, sub-subgenre and on and on and evermore, and for what? Usually to determine which anarcho-folk black metal album, of the four, is the best and why, but ultimately I imagine it is a byproduct of the human brain needing to project order unto chaos, to continually feed the fires of causality so that we might delay succumbing to our own entropic reality. Norway’s Vestindien seem to delight in taking that need, tearing it apart and scattering it at their feet. The trappings of genre can be security blankets to the uninitiated or unwilling listener; when wielded with precision they drape the ears in comfort for the journey ahead. With Verdande, they act as the crucified dead along the Appian Way on your journey to Rome – some of them you’ve seen before but not like this, not like this…

Release date: May 10, 2024. Label: Dark Essence Records.
Verdande is an arid amalgamation of the weathered roots of hardcore, black metal, synth-based rock and the most dolorous dregs of new wave. Songs beam in as if they are transmissions from the wreckage of abandoned space husks or radio signals from remote and dying outposts of humanity. When they break open the guitars spill forward, dry yet roiling, buoyed by the refreshingly spare and unusually tasteful drum work. Make no mistake, despite all the yammering about how uncategorizable this music is, the bedrock here is unquestionably your classic four-piece rock band. If you were to filter it all down to guitars, bass and drums you’d have yourself a rowdy, rollicking group of seasoned and menacing musicians. But Vestindien are not your neighborhood retired, rock-band-member dads content with mashing their long lived-in greatest hits into the bar’s back walls for the nth time. No, they are disruptors, tinkerers. The extraneous elements that color the edges are what tip this into the alien: the synths that wash and whirl around the outer limits, the occasional wide-open glassy clean break, the vicious, gnashing vocals, the underlying air of maniacal triumph.

Opening track “Humus” sets the stage simply enough. A synth tone strobes in, establishing tempo and key, if not also overall mood. This is a recurring template throughout – songs open sparingly with a synth part, expand into a full band lashing, then either close forcefully and suddenly or ride out the intensity until only there are only embers. “Humus”, though, is a red herring. After the opening guitars strut in with a sneering bend, they just as quickly drop away and cede to vocalist Torjus Slettsnok in a low, almost croon. He holds court ominously over the rhythm section but there is enough of a rough and tumble groove to the proceedings, to the entire song really, that one might be convinced they are in for a milder listen. This song does not belie the extent of violence of which Vestindien are capable. For example, Slettsnok will proceed to, for the next at least 6.5 of 8 songs, go scorched earth on his throat, shouting and shredding his vocal chords until they’re fraying at the edges. Tracks 2 through 6 proceed to entrench the true nature of this record: swinging backbeats, gruff and shuffling guitars, a climactic and desperate melodicism. The best portions of Verdande raise the heart rate to their frequency and drag you, newly bloodthirsty, into the swirling fray.

Penultimate and titular track, “Verdande”, utilizes some new techniques. Acoustic guitars and electronics, shifting tectonically, set the scene, surely portending doom. The first three and a half minutes could be an extended intro from The Devil’s Steed-era Sol Invictus, all horns and droning and dread. Slettsnok then brings back his “regular” voice over a lone kick drum and some atmospherics before the entire band bursts in, allowing him free reign to command and soar over them. The song continues as it has, quieting and simmering before boiling over again, this time being later joined with some clean female vocals, a drastic and welcome textural change. I love everything about this song sonically but especially its placement in the album and its willingness to veer off into uncharted territory. It shows that Vestindien have even more depth and a sensitivity to moods other than controlled ferocity. Hopefully album three by the Bergen lads continues to plumb these areas.

Verdande seems to me a work that is within time but outside of it. Similarly to last year’s I Inside the Old Year Dying by PJ Harvey it is as if Vestindien set out to write a record that you could not date; all of the familiar elements are there to be heard and understood but are they old? Are they from a not too distant, all too blighted future? PJ’s album creeps shakily forward on a bed of pastoral instrumentation and foreboding melody while she intones in a mixture of ancient English dialect and references to Elvis and Pepsi. Vestindien march into the dusty wasteland, propelled by roaring proto-metal guitar and the battle-scarred, ragged tenor howling of their frontman. Both albums, to me, inhabit a parallel, apocalyptic future of our own where few people survive and even fewer music is salvaged, the ensuing generations having to absorb and twist what was left into their own brutal patchwork fabrications.

Fans of heavy music have a lot to latch onto with this record, despite the disparate elements forming an on paper not too heavy whole. There is a raging spirit to this music that could fit just as well in an ale-soaked English pub as it would in a corpse-painted Scandinavian dungeon. If the world is right and fair Vestindien will rip out and eat the hearts of many more fans with these tunes, and if the world is wrong and cruel, well, won’t that be just the perfect muse?

Posted by Isaac Hams

  1. Great fine, I’m really digging this. Calls to kind a ton of other bands but are clearly doing their own thing, and that thing is super fun.

    So we dance! So the fire-won’t-DIIIIEEEE


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