Review Summary: Even more aggressive and depressing than the last album, but also more experimental and versatile. A stunning latest effort from Valborg sees the band delve further into the void.
Praised by none other than Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost for being "unique", Germany's Valborg have maintained a steady descent into the world of psychological menace, and all-out misery. 2017's excellent Endstrand
featured a slightly more streamlined focus on songwriting, something which thankfully didn't take away from all the threatening industrial stomps and atmospheric darkness the album presented. Two years later, and things seem to have become even more grim with the release of latest album Zentrum
, an effort which is shorter but no less intense than its predecessor.
Considering Christian Kolf's recent forays into alternative musical territory (most notably the experimental, ambient side project Owl which is fantastic in its own right), you'd be forgiven for thinking that Zentrum
had settled down a bit and made the listener feel a little more comfortable. Absolutely not the case, as the album's first two songs have proved. Opener "Rote Augen" is a menacing, bitter concoction of raw, gritty riff work and thunderous Gothic misery, stamping its influence all over your eardrums and threatening to drag you down into ever bleaker territory. Kolf's vocal work is every bit as passionate as the instrumentation, screaming, growling and soaring along to the song's otherwise intrusive themes of hopelessness and terror. Then comes "Alphakomet", a song so powerful and excruciatingly depressing the listener needs to crawl back out of the proverbial hole they've just been pulled into. In all seriousness, it's a real monster. Pulsating Gothic industrial beats stab at the recording, the jagged riff work grating alongside the foreboding atmosphere and thus shedding any nuance of melody or harmony. It's every bit as tense as you'd expect but it's multi-layered focus means that a song like this is hard to dissect, such is the difficulty of trying to pigeonhole Valborg into any particular sub-genre.
's mid-section focuses more on the experimental side of things, but with no less appreciation of making an emotional impact. "Anomalie", for example, is akin to the most ambient moments of Celtic Frost's Monotheist
, because of its slow albeit seething ventures into industrial territory. The rhythm here is particularly mesmerising but builds into something memorable and almost accessible, abruptly ripped apart by the second half's riff work. "Nahtod" and "Nonnenstern" are undoubtedly two of the most passionate and soulful songs in Valborg's discography. Whereas the former presents a repetitive focus on certain lyrics and thus bringing a slight case of insanity into the mix, the latter features a clean vocal presence courtesy of Jan Buckard, who himself allows melancholy to infiltrate an otherwise extreme and aggressive sound. Both songs however explore different tones, even if the same subject matter is approached. "Nahtod" naturally builds on its vocal presence from harmonic to almost brutal (black metal influence apparent as well) and "Nonnenstern" is more of an exercise in storytelling, a personal approach made all the more vivid thanks to those industrial stabs in the background threatening to take over.
's consistency allows Valborg's ideas and sense of musical exploration to take flight, even if that flight is about to be swallowed whole by a sheer magnitude of depressing themes. This is what Valborg have been writing about since day one however, and their musical presence has only progressed and powered through any sense of dwindling laziness, resulting in albums as versatile as this. It won't be for everyone, but the few that can appreciate how Valborg have experimented with their sound without falling into a trap of complacency will get something out of this. It's undoubtedly Valborg's finest effort, and one of the best albums of its kind this year.