The German band Varg seems to hit a great many raw nerves around the metal community. The grievances are legion and range from unease about style to outright, virulent hatred.
As to the RMR crew, Varg never quite connected with our inner self to this day. We – indeed – stumbled across their wares in the past, but the love never generated that urge to write a review. Or any other article about that band for that matter.
Then there is the controversy about right-wing undercurrents that Varg apparently serviced. Something they vehemently denied in the meantime. As they all do, once the moral scythe of the watchers of good German politicking beckons them.
So, it is only when the title song of Varg‘s new record Zeichen aired on YouTube that the band seriously appeared on our radar. The track – somehow – finally hit a positive vibe in the RMR office suite. Even if the cheese almost overwhelmed the good quality the track actually displays. But even at RMR we have our weaknesses. Catchy tunes like that, with a number of known musicians in the fray to boot, are irresistible to our folksy souls. What can I say.
Then, the RMR deck crew took notice of the arrival of Fylgja, the new female full-time crew member of the band. And that – by itself – opens a wealth of opportunities. For instance, Eluveitie always had a female copilot that saved their bacon more than once.
So, here we have Varg with a seemingly softer tone, a ‘new’ underlying theme, and a more stable female sideshow. And that should be a recipe for endless possibilities and future glory.
Well, once the title track 793 hits your shores, Freki‘s metal growls and the merciless beat stomp the tariff into you. Only that the ever-returning riffing of the chorus seems to be something straight from a football stadium1). Zeichen storms forward with a rough garden-variety brand of Melodic Death Metal, plus a few blackened spots on the menu. With all those Viking and Pagan schemes seemingly slapped onto the arrangement like so much window dressing.
And for long stretches, you’ll find no trace of that divine female intervention. That possibility to break up the omnipresent growling and the steadfast meaty riffs. To the point that I asked myself why – by Loki – the band took Fylgja on board as a full member at all.
It is only with those two blurbs, Rán and Fara Til Ránar, that the female vocalist gets at least some airtime. And even then, this feels like some vile afterthought. A bit rigid in structure and a somewhat subdued delivery without a lot of glory in it.
In essence, Zeichen comes across as the record of lost opportunities. The band claimed Viking lore as their new vocation. And ironically, some fans immediately threw Varg into the same boat as Amon Amarth. This, when the latter is laser-focused on Viking stories that hold their mead. Whereas the contribution of this band gets nowhere near the quality and passion Amarth can muster.
Then, the band truly missed the opportunity to use the female vocalist to beautify their wares. A line of thought well commenced, yet badly executed and sadly unfinished.
To add insult to injury, the often metalcore-ish screams really started to rub me the wrong way after a while2). A tad more variety may have done wonders. Instead, the band bores down on the unsuspecting fan like a friggin’ Death Metal avalanche. One that thrives on time-worn metal thrills and cheap pagan themes.
To wrap this up some, let’s circle back to the video for Zeichen, the title song. Yours truly may have stepped right into Napalm Record’s trap, whose doctrine demands that at least one song needs to be commercially viable. Even if the moving pictures of the clip truly catch the essence of a track easy to sing along with. So, same as with other records before them, somehow the promises of future pagan delights suggested on that video did not materialize.
If Zeichen would simply have presented itself as a dime-a-dozen, slightly thrashy, old-school Death Metal bone-breaker with a few melodic and blackened parts for spice, things may have passed better. However, Varg try to showcase their bride as some weird brand of Viking Metal. Only that they constantly lose themselves on the pagan-infested left field.
In other words, this whole production feels staged and is as far removed from saltwater than any Bavarian band can possibly be. The storyline is a pretty much straightforward attempt to hide their overly screechy Death Metal brand under a thin veil of Norse pagan lore. Which – in turn – leads to a lack of authenticity. A record of lost opportunities indeed, guided by a compass that points to nowhere.
And this will just not do.