Varmia’s last studio effort received an honourable mention in the SBR Top 7 Avant-Garde Metal Albums of 2021. We remarked that their ‘music is ritualistic, delivered in antiquated tongue, and designed so you can drop to your knees and implore the deities at the first sight of rain.’ As an experimental black metal act, Varmia worked out their sound on their 2019 sophomore release, W ciele nie, but they enhanced it two years ago with the goat horn and wood tuba added to their instrumentation. Now, they return with the first EP in their discography and rein in some of the more unorthodox elements from their last record. But is this a regressive step?
As a three-track EP, Prolog gives Varmia an excuse to limit their experimental impulses, yet they still have their idiosyncrasies and refuse to fall into the trap of an atonal black metal approach with no direction. Opener, ‘Oddal’, starts with slow ringing power chords and an underlayer of acoustic strokes but creeps into a mid-tempo black metal odyssey in no time. The aggression has a sinister echo to it, like Finnish collective, … And Oceans, yet you know there’s something waiting to spit you out of the vortex rather than suck you into it. Maybe it’s the way they reset the song at one minute and thirty seconds with the first modulation to a primitive death-doom thrust. You could be listening to Celtic Frost or even early Bathory at this point if not for the morbid use of didgeridoo underneath the fist-pumping action. Headphones will serve you best if you want to unlock the secrets of this song. Then, you’ll hear sporadic female harmonies and a brass instrument buried in the mix with no discernible logic. Lead vocalist, Lasota, froths at the mouth with a harsh spittle of venomous threats when you think it’s safe to relax.
The guitars in ‘Gorzkie fale’ aim for an uglier dissonance, but Varmia are clever enough to raise the other instruments to prominence when your eyes want to wince. Sinister tom drum patterns and multi-harmony bass projections give way to rough noise segments redeemed only by the inclusion of a goat horn’s war cry. Spanish black metal outfit, Ouija, achieve a similar paradox of savagery and sophistication on their latest album. The aim is to keep things dry enough to make your ears bleed yet varied enough to satiate your appetite for new dimensions. It makes the loose jangle of the tagelharpa (tail-hair harp) on closing track, ‘3’, even more pleasing. Here, Varmia match the menacing folk of The Hu. Listen how the percussion drives the pulse of the song and keeps you on edge as if waiting for an invasion of your home that can happen at any time. Who knows what the gurn-face chant vocals mean? They’re not offering a hand of friendship – that’s for sure.
We noted that ‘fifty-eight minutes of pagan invocations and hostile posturing lose some of their charm’ when reviewing Varmia’s 2021 album, bal Lada. There’s no such problem here, but these three tracks suggest the Polish quartet have new pastures in mind for album number four. Prolog follows the time old wisdom of doing more with less and succeeds in its objective.
Release Date: 06/01/2023
Record Label: M-Theory Audio
Standout track: Oddal
Suggested Further Listening: Black Altar/Kirkebrann – Deus Inversus (2020), Darkestrah – Chong Aryk (2021), Ouija – Fathomless Hysteros (2022)