Vargrav - The Nighthold CD
From the dawn of the classic debut album, Netherstorm, in 2018, Finland's VARGRAV have almost single-handedly reinvigorated the oft-maligned symphonic black metal subgenre. Forged in fires from the ancients - founder V-Khaoz's credentials are vast and stretch back decades - and stoking the embers last left by Obtained Enslavement and Norway's Covenant and Odium, VARGRAV's two albums to date stand as proud pillars of shimmering, classics-based obsidian.
As momentous as those two full-lengths have been, VARGRAV arguably eclipse both with their third album, The Nighthold. With a lineup that now includes the notorious Graf Werwolf von Armageddon on vocals and Moonsorrow members Trollhorn of the Black Harvest on guitars/bass and Baron M. Tarwonen on drums, VARGRAV's swirling, cosmic surge has never been more potent; their attack is both sharper and dreamier, crystal-clear and opaque simultaneously. That added clarity creates more immediacy as The Nighthold kicks in, for the aggression of old is kicked into overdrive here and the synths take on a truly orchestral aspect. It's not for nothing that the album is a full hour in length: everything here sounds (and feels) HUGE, one massive velvety purple landscape of stained-glass visions as far as the third eye can see. And all 12 tracks are threaded together in a plausibly cinematic manner; while each is mighty in its own respective right, VARGRAV sequence every song with artistic flair and high drama, concluding the immersive experience with a daresay-soulful guitar solo during the coda of "Creator of the True Realm" that then segues into the nearly-10-minute big-screen instrumental "Ghostlands." What film or filmic realm one enters into (or leaves) is entirely up to the listener...The Nighthold is boundless!
It is thus not unjust to liken this achievement to Covenant's classic Nexus Polaris. The second era of VARGRAV has hereby begun with The Nighthold!