The Thing About Utbyrd’s ‘Varskrik’
Is the Arctic Circle big enough to contain such chaos?
The Thing About is a series of short, simple heavy metal reviews. Scroll down to the headings that interest you most or read the whole thing. The previous installment was about Pharaoh’s The Powers That Be.
Black metal is a history in extremity. Extreme speed, extreme raw, extreme lo-fi, extreme dinge, extreme views, extreme acts, extreme ferocity, extreme sound… Mid-Nineties classics like Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Immortal’s Battles in the North are what happens when bands go down one or more of these paths. Utbyrd’s Varskrik may not join those releases on the highest shelf of that canon, but it is the work of a band dedicated to similar abandon.
Utbyrd is a symphonic black metal band from Bodø, Norway, a town just north of the Arctic Circle. It’s one of those places where the number of sunshine hours in an entire month can hit zero, where the sun occasionally doesn’t set, and temperatures are colder than the Bell Witch’s warts. In other words, it’s the perfect place for spawning black metal. Utbyrd has been around since 2012 and has one album to its name. That’s Varskrik, released in 2017 by Hammerheart Records. The group’s Bandcamp page promises it will “run a shiver down your spine.”
For some listeners, that shiver may be unpleasant. Vocalist Nohr (also of Gravsang and Skaur) has a style best described as fingernails on a blackboard, and he uses it to screech like Dani Filth of Cradle of Filth and howl like Jake Superchi of Uada. The music falls closer to the former and Carach Angren for its symphonic elements, but with fewer slow spots, less theater and more full-bore black metal. The album charges out of the void, no intro, and interweaves the metal and symphonic across 47 minutes with only a little in the way of purely symphonic lulls. Nothing to bore here.
The painting on the cover is a nocturnal landscape. A small boat floats on a partially frozen body of water as snow-covered pines watch from the shore. Ripples suggest the boat’s owner has just dived into — or been dragged down into — the water. Artist Marcelo Vasco, who has also done artwork for everyone from Slayer to Hatebreed, has rendered the scene in black, white and pale green. The orb in the band’s logo hangs overhead like a midnight sun over the Norwegian Sea.
The Thing About
The thing about Varskrik is how crazy it is. I can’t describe it technically, but everything is in flux: screeches turn to clean multi-track vocals, drumbeats blast then rock when they aren’t just freaking out, while guitars tremolo this way then grind back the other way, jerking like a circular saw jamming up. Angry Metal Guy has criticized the album for its production (among other things), but that hasn’t been a problem for me. It may be less than crystalline, but the sonic jostle only increases the feeling of all the instruments fighting it out like it’s the Massacre at Hardhome.
In conclusion, this is one that listeners will either love or hate. To some, it’ll come across as annoying noise, a band trying too hard and falling, balls on the ice. To others, it’ll be a band trying, not without success, to push the black metal envelope in insanity. I’m in the latter category.
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