With the current black metal scene lying firmly within the dominant confines of North America, the genre seems to have lost its grip on the lands that sparked its initial rise to success. With Norway not producing good black metal for more than a decade and Sweden is still doing the exact same thing they were doing 15+ years ago, the USBM and Canadian scenes account for a fairly large portion of the good black metal that has been released in the last ten or so years. There have been pockets of quality in other locations like France, the Ukraine, and Russia, but these areas never quite reach the sheer volume of good material that North America has been producing. However, to the east of the birthplace of black metal lies a country that is notorious for producing extreme metal of the utmost quality: Finland. While their main export is consisted of drunken folk metal and power metal about dragons and scantily clad battlemaidens, the much smaller black metal and death metal scenes have a consistent track record of producing some of the best music in each respective genre. Hailing from the current black metal scene of Finland are Rahu, who have so far unleashed two demo EP's and now finally in 2012, their debut full length, The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows
, one of the best black metal releases of the year so far.
Rahu is yet another project from Atvar, the mind behind the bands Vordr, Circle of Ouroborus, Prevalent Resistance, and Venus Star. Surprisingly enough, besides a few other notable acts like Cornigr, Atvar's output comprises a majority of the quality material now coming from Finland. Regardless, Rahu is more or less a band that’s strength lies in being a sum of all of the quality parts of the creator's other projects. Their sound lies firmly in between the gloomy post-punk melodies of the more unconventional Circle of Ouroborus and the straight forward approach to both Vordr and Prevalent Resistance. Whereas Circle of Ouroborus, in most cases, takes the post-punk concept and runs it into the ground (which is why they are a band that has had more success with EPs and splits rather than full lengths) The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows
sees Rahu meld this sound organically into the pool of its other elements, never dragging a motif to the point of it becoming tired and boring.
The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows
is a relentless torrent of black metal. In its 40 minute duration not once does it stop for a bloated clean section or an overlong ambient interlude. The album doesn't rely solely on blasting mindlessly through its entire length, there are plenty of tasteful tempo changes sprinkled throughout each track, but it doesn't fall victim to the trappings of other atmospheric black metal bands where creating a certain "atmosphere" overshadows good songwriting. Rahu's atmosphere is a byproduct of the music and not its sole purpose.
On top of being a musical success, The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows
is an aural success as well. The production is lo-fi and murky but never to the point of drowning out the music. The 4-track fuzz of the guitars provides a thick wall of sound to cover up the rumbling pulse of the drums behind it. The music has a surprisingly refreshing low end that is easily distinguishable as a product of an artist that is using the lo-fi aesthetic to bring out the fullness of a concept rather than simply not knowing how the *** to record an album.
Kalas Bleed for the Sun Eater
is the stand out track on the album, although there really isn't a track that could be considered a weak point. Rahu's The Quest for the Vajra of Shadows
is a success of concept and form, synthesizing an assortment of elements from other projects into what is probably the most successful output this artist has yet achieved. It is a testament again to the strength of Finland's smaller and more exclusive extreme metal scenes and, as it stands, the best black metal album released so far this year. If you are a fan of any of Avtar's other projects or really black metal in general, this is a must have for 2012.