Review by Vladimir on November 16, 2023.
Well, well, well, time sure flies by, right? It feels like it was just a couple of weeks ago when I heard and reviewed Encircle The Spectral Dimension, the latest EP of Finnish symphonic black metal band Vargrav. Little did I know that a third full-length album The Nighthold was going to be released on December 15th at the doorstep of the Winter season, and here we are at last, finally able to enter the draconic castle shrouded in purple mist, haunted by wraiths and gargoyles. Are you ready to once again experience the cosmic and stellar epicness of Vargrav’s music? If you are, stay awhile and listen…
As the wicked witches giggle and their venomous brews burst with bubbles on the opening instrumental track 'Moonless Abyss Of The Nighthold', you hear the violins and keyboards building the tension and atmosphere of The Nighthold, all the while slowly descending in the realm of the crimson dragon. Once again, the epicness of Vargrav's music does not fail to amuse, because once again you hear the cosmic and stellar beauty of their symphonic black metal majesty with tremolo picking riffs, blast beat, double-bass or mid-tempo drumming, Werwolf’s harsh frozen vocals and that beautiful melancholic sound from the keyboards. The album maintains the draconic energy with its stylistic consistency from one track to another, all the while each track feels like an epic composition with a strong emphasis on storytelling through music. The music keeps the imagination going at all times, even with two more ambient instrumentals 'Curse Of The Plaguewood Lake' and 'Into The Shadow Crypts', both of which further continue to build up the general feeling of The Nighthold while also starting a new chapter between songs. It’s amazing how the album gradually gets better and progressively chaotic the further it goes, especially when you get to the fine banger tunes such as 'The One Who Lurks Beyond The Starscape'. The biggest praise that this album would obviously get besides the black metal instrumental work is the symphonic touches of the keyboards, which convey such an array of emotions next to the majestic atmosphere that is reminiscent of bands such as early Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Odium, Limbonic Art and Diabolical Masquerade. There are some rather surprising moments as well, that being the unexpected tender guitar solo section on the eleventh track 'Creator Of The True Real' which sounds like it’s coming from a Steve Vai song, but a very fun inclusion nonetheless. I have to say that the album also ends on a very high note with the closing track 'Ghostlands', yet another ambient instrumental that is 9 minutes and 43 seconds like, giving you an impression like you’ve reached the closing credits of an epic movie. Like I said, there seems to be some strong emphasis on storytelling through music, even the instrumental tracks and symphonic elements feel like they’re inspired by soundtracks from fantasy video games like Neverwinter Nights, Divinity: Original Sin II, Dragon Age: Origins or similar, especially since the atmosphere of these tracks create such an environment in your head, which is even more hyped up with the brilliant album cover by indonesian artist Johny Prayogi. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that there was a strong influence from video game and perhaps film music that were subconsciously laying in the blackened minds of V-Khaoz and Werwolf. Just like on the previously released EP Encircle The Spectral Dimension, Vargrav had an extra backup from two contributing guest members, that being Marko Tarvonen on drums and Henri 'Trollhorn' Sorvali on guitars and bass, both of whom have done a great job on this album along with of V-Khaoz on keyboards and Werwolf on vocals. The sound production sounds grand and powerful, and yet very in style of many 90’s black metal albums in similar style.
I believe that The Nighthold manages to fulfill the high expectations, which were briefly teased with the Encircle The Spectral Dimension EP. It is a fine album that is worth listening from start to finish, without ever losing track of what is going on and always being on the edge of your seats wondering what is going to happen next. Like I said before, Vargrav stands the test of time, and The Nighthold is both like a fine wine and a living proof that they indeed deserved their status of worship.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10256